I was at the playground with my kids yesterday and my four-year-old kept asking me to take pictures of things. This tree! Me standing next to this tree! That awesome slug! Me climbing this giant rock! Me hugging my friend! I cheerfully kept hauling out my phone and snapping quick shots, which he and the other kids would immediately demand to see, as if the fun thing they just did couldn’t happen unless they could look at it on a tiny screen.
My kids have a digital camera a friend of mine gave them. They use it constantly, mostly to make stop-motion animation films with Lego. They take literally hundreds of pictures, of everything. I saw my eight year old taking a whole series of pictures of his own feet once, just because he could.
This is so dramatically different from my first experiences with cameras, it’s almost unfathomable. It’s like explaining telephone party lines, or two-channel TV, or McDonald’s orange drink. My kids just have no frame of reference for it, and even I am taken aback when I realize how much has changed.
This was my first camera:
It was a hand-me-down from my mom. She gave it to me in the fifth grade, when I went on a week-long exchange trip to Ottawa. I’d never been out of the province before, so it merited such a momentous thing. For the entire week-long trip, I had one roll of film with 24 pictures.
You’d better believe I was careful about what I took pictures of! Only 24 shots! Jeepers, I can take 24 shots of the same tulip these days just to make sure I get it the way I want, casually discarding any that I’m not happy with while I’m still standing there staring at the tulip. There’s also a built-in flash in both my phone and my DSLR camera, which I can turn on or off, or adjust manually, or set to daytime / nighttime / low light / insect mode / WHATEVER SITUATION I CAN POSSIBLY BE IN.
Back in the day, kids, your average indoor snapshot had two light levels – overexposed or too dark to see. Ever wonder why our entire childhoods appeared according to the photographic record to happen outdoors? Yes, we were outside more, but it’s also because it was just easier to take half-decent shots in lots of natural light.
My second camera looked like this:
It took flash cubes. FLASH CUBES.
See how it says “four flashes in one”? So, you bought a package of three, and that gave you 12 flashes. Twelve. They were super-bright, and expensive, too.
In fact everything about cameras was expensive. The equipment, the film, the flash cubes… and all that did was give you the means to take the pictures.
If you actually wanted to see your pictures, well. You had to pay for developing. You could drop them at most drugstores and after a mere seven days, look at your shots. You could pony up big bucks to get three-day processing, if you were really in a rush.
There were also several services that allowed you to mail in your film and pay a much-reduced rate for processing, although that took weeks, plus you had the fun of nervously putting your wedding day / child’s first birthday / graduation film into the hands of Canada Post, hoping like hell that they’d arrive undamaged.
There was no guarantee with that service, either. Once my mom sent away several rolls to be developed and when they came back, every single picture was ruined – they’d mucked up the colour, and everything had a weird purple tint. We all looked like drowning victims. It was quite unsettling.
We are spoiled by technology in some interesting ways, aren’t we?