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Friday, December 31, 2010

Farewell to All That

It's been all over the news lately, but in case you haven't heard that Kodachrome film is no more:

Now, a note for posterity: Kodak made a number of varieties of film in addition to Kodachrome, which was used by people who could afford expensive cameras - the kind you can adjust the speed and aperture of - to take slides or movies or professional photos. Certainly a lot of middle-class people did, but some families, including mine, never had such fancy cameras. The Kodak film I always used to take snapshots with had a different name - and come to think of it, what was that? - Kodacolor, maybe. Not the same thing as the much-lamented Kodachrome, which was much more expensive.

In fact, my family never even used color film until the very late 60's - black and white film was cheaper, say $1.50 a roll compared to $2.50 a roll for color - so my parents stayed with that, and the black and white TV sets too, for a long time. It was what people were used to, you know, and for that matter, most magazines and books had only b&w pictures on the inside pages until the 1980's (except perhaps for colorful advertisements - and also excepting Playboy and that ilk).

So I never used Kodachrome, and its demise touches me only tangentially as a sign of the times, the inexorable flow of days and years, the unending loss of the present moment, the familiar, the expected. There's a comfort in the usual patterns of life which is always being eaten away at the edges, as the waves pull at the sands of the seashore. Everything in this mortal life is transitory, impermanent as a dream no matter how solid it may seem. Including our very selves and all that we hold dear.

Be that as it may, there are compensatory additions from time to time. Who now could do without a microwave oven? Which I recall was, forty years ago, strictly a luxury item, very expensive, which took me a couple of decades to see the use of. Now I use it all the time, practically every hour of the day when I'm at home: a most useful invention.

Cell phones are another great convenience - even though your Head Trucker still hasn't figured out how to take a picture with his, and doesn't much care. I marvel now that we used to take long road trips to see family and friends perhaps a thousand or more miles away - and embarked merrily on the journey, trusting only to God and Chevrolet against the chance of being broken down and stranded on some lonesome stretch of highway, far from any help. I don't even go to the grocery store now without my phone, but we were braver in those days.

Your Head Trucker has, however, gotten the hang of using a digital camera, and boy howdy, what a treat it is. I've had my little Kodak C-330 for five years now, and I dearly love it. In my teens and young adult years, I used to have a vague hankering to learn photography - at one time there was a PBS how-to show on the subject that I used to watch sometimes. But it required a really good single-reflex camera to start with, which was beyond my pocketbook for many years. Then too, it seemed to be de rigeur that to be a real photographer, you had to have your own darkroom and know how to use it - which required more expense, and space that I never had anywhere I lived. So that was a little daydream that never went anywhere.

But the digital camera was a revelation. Suddenly, for only $150 or so, I found I could take endless pictures from all angles in all kinds of light, and actually produce a few that were worth keeping - all quite easily and cheaply. You can even see the picture on your camera screen as soon as you take it, and know whether to try again. And no counting frames, or worrying about how much it would cost to develop all the photos you took - very liberating, and a new creative outlet that I've enjoyed immensely. A very good change, despite all the laments over the passing of film: the expense of film and equipment made it a hobby only for the affluent.

And then, of course, there's the internet, which is quite frankly a godsend to anyone who lives in the sticks as I do. And for people who live in town, too: an unending source of entertainment, communication, and creative endeavor that as far as I'm concerned is an unquestioned necessity now. In recent weeks, for unrelated reasons, both the ex-roommate and I have each experienced a few days without internet service. And we both agree, it was nearly unbearable - just as much as if the water were turned off.

Which is odd, when I stop and think about it. I perfectly recall life before home computers - I used them at work a long time before I got one of my own, in 1999 - and how I was quite content to come home and in my leisure time read a book, call a friend, or simply flop in front of the TV. But now times have changed, and I've changed. Life is that way; the tide is always tugging at you, pulling you on, whether you will or no.

So we must always be balancing the losses against the gains, and adjusting to the shifts and turns of life. And always, human life is a mixed bag of blessings and curses, advances and retreats. Just yesterday, for example, surfing through Wikipedia with no particular goal in mind, as I am wont to do, I stumbled across this paragraph in an article about a British politician most Americans have probably never heard of, Roy Jenkins:
As Home Secretary from 1965–1967, he sought to build what he described as "a civilised society", with measures such as the effective abolition in Britain of capital punishment and theatre censorship, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, relaxing of divorce law, suspension of birching and the legalisation of abortion.
Perhaps all that is well and good - but it did give me pause. More than four decades later, is our Western civilization really a more "civilized society" than it was before the 1960's?

PRR ad, 1948

Or merely different? Human nature never changes, merely the outward forms and fashions. All our scheming, inventing, and rearranging may make the world more comfortable in some ways - but convenience is not quite the same as progress - is it?

Only one thing is certain:  you can't go home again.

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