I headed to George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) and got a chance to see Alexis Gerard speak on Going Visual: How Imaging Technology is Reshaping Culture, Society, and Business. I really wasn't all that impressed with his lecture, mostly because I didn't buy into the premise.
The gist is that a because the nerves that make up our sense of sight vastly outnumber those for hearing, and that we have the capacity in our bodies to produce sounds, that we are left with a yearning to similarly create images. I disagree right away because I think that our capacity to create sound is about as lacking as our ability to create imagery with our bodies (i.e. without outside tools) when you compare either to its respective sensory capabilities. For instance, our ability to pantomime the shape of a tree is as accurate as our ability to mimic the sound of a roaring fire.
Gerard's argument then is to imply that the ability to capture an accurate representation of the world has been an underlying desire of man. He notes that the ability to create realistic paintings required a lot of skill, it cost a lot, and the resulting product must be seen in person; compare that to a camera phone where the skill to produce an image is very low, the cost is negligible, and the capacity to share the image is huge.
But I say that the ability to record images is as boring as the ability to record sounds. The meat-and-potatoes of my own desire to stimulate my senses revolves around creating new things: sights and sounds of things as yet unseen. It is more about creating tools to manipulate my world than it is to play parlor tricks with my senses. For isn't that what a photograph is — a way to trick your senses into believing you're seeing something that is not in front of you?
So to say that this "empowers" people is flawed. It only gives people a very specific tool that is really only for a very specific purpose.