Monday, August 23, 2010

Wrapped Up in a Continuum

"Sun on Water", pinhole camera image, 30 second exposure

I see a man, walking toward the coffee shop, carrying an Etch-a-Sketch. He's with a small group of other people. They, the Etch-a-Sketch entourage, enter and queue up in line at the counter. Everyone else, they have either computers or paper and pen. Or nothing at all. It's a fine Sunday morning, still a bit cool but promising to heat up later on. I'm seated at a corner table by the window of Winning Coffee, near the jungle of potted plants. The coffee roaster guy is finishing up a batch of beans on the roasting machine, a forest-green, brass and aluminum contraption, steam-punk-like, sporting the emblem "The Java Works of Sedona."

I could imagine blogging with an Etch-a-Sketch. Text would be difficult, unless you did it in cursive, where you're using a continuous, unbroken line. Would this represent the ultimate expression of penmanship (sketchmanship?), in a display of two-handed simultaneous coordination to produce, not just legible but, superior quality script?

And then there's the matter of actually sketching. Artwork. I suppose one wouldn't have to be a "real artist" with the Etch-a-Sketch to produce functional illustrations for one's blogs. But there's a big difference between being a hacker at Etch-a-Sketch and some of the finer works being made.

Like most people of my age, I was well-exposed to the Etch-a-Sketch as a kid. But it wasn't until years later, as an adult, that I picked one up and found it relatively easy to produce continuous-line art that was as good as what I could do with pen on paper. I'm not saying I'm any kind of whiz with the Etch-a-Sketch, but that I somehow found it more accessible as an adult than as a child. Which begs the question, how many other devices are like that, originally intended for kids, but somehow reappropriated for different usage models later in their product life-cycle? I can immediately think of one, the Fisher-Price Pixelvision. I'm sure astute readers will provide ample examples of other such devices.

The thing I'm not certain about in this impromptu fantasizing about blogging with an Etch-a-Sketch is how easy it would be to scan the resulting image. I suppose I'd have to go out and buy one in order to test it out, but one may end up having to photograph the resulting image with a digital camera, if scanning proved less than adequate. The knobs, that's the problem with scanning, unless they could be temporarily removed for scanning, then reattached.

This leads, of course, to the notion that perhaps soon, in the near technological future, someone will introduce a digital Etch-a-Sketch, able to record to memory card, or output to a display screen, the results of one's scratchings. The device itself could simply employ two digital axis encoders, connected to the device's knobs, generating an electronic fascimile to the mechanical version of the device.

My cup of Americano is nearing empty. I pick an opportune moment, when the line at the counter is short, to power off the Alphasmart Neo, cover the remains of my breakfast bagel with a paper napkin, and get a refill. On the way back to my table, carefully balancing the cup in near-perfect alignment with the local gravitational field to prevent the almost-full cup from sloshing fresh drippings onto the well-worn oaken floors, I pass the table where Etch-a-Sketch guy is seated. He's making a wonderful portrait of the lady seated across from him. I stop and chat a moment. He's planning on a gallery show of his work, using "real" sketchings. I asked about how he records his sketches, he said that he sometimes photographs them.

Meanwhile, the day is getting warmer, my second cup is rapidly disappearing, and a guy has sat down at the adjoining table with an iPad fitted to a three-ring-binder style of holder, where the holder flips open to provide a conveniently slanted viewing angle. Elsewhere in the common room there's someone reading the Sunday Albuquerque Journal, pages stewn about their table, and a few others are on their laptop computers. Now the Etch-a-Sketch people are looking at something on their 3G cell phone. And a while ago there was a guy seated at another nearby table who was writing with a pen in a notebook, of the paper kind.

It's this diversity of usage that fascinates me, further reinforcing the notion that, as time and technology advance, we don't really lose hold of the past as much it becomes wrapped up in a continuum, becoming part of our heritage, our cultural genetics.

At the counter by the coffee roaster there's a young boy playing Scrabble with an older man. The man is engaged in a conversation with a friend seated next to him, distracting him long enough for the young lad to use his cell phone to look up possible word combinations for his turn at the game.

The time is now. I pack up Alphasmart, bus my table clean, and head out for a fine day of motorcycling.

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~Joe

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