Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in an interview that “Google knows where you are and where you have been and more or less, what you are thinking.” In a digital age I admit my affinity for photography and writing has left much of my life visible to those who mine the online for whatever need may be however, thanks in part to my age and a further, perhaps more profound love for the outdoors, I know that often, Google does not.
I was born and raised in country Canada and that rural existence has suck with me through a number of cities and two continents on opposite sides of the globe. There was no avoiding nature for me as an active youth blessed with a big backyard and parents who appreciated it. Going on weekend canoe trips with my father in Northern Ontario was a feature of jealously among my friends and every year we were joined by seemingly more and more father and son teams. My mother loved her extensive wildflower gardens and preached reading over watching television and so I was armed with a near practical library of Audubon Field Guides for everything from mushrooms to the night sky, perfect for rainy afternoons at the cottage. In the winters my parents and my older sister and I would cross country ski or go skating on a frozen pond in the regional forest that was just a short hike from our home. During the long, humid days of summer I was a sun kissed explorer always pushing the boundaries of my familiar territory.
Mother and Joey
It may be because of those early associations with the outdoors that I feel so comfortable in it now, and when I am not, I want to be.
Practitioners of multimedia online, like myself, can still retain some level of autonomy if they only try. In my frozen images of landscapes that I capture and share there is no indicator of latitude and longitude, and in many cases, only a vague title describing a location. I do not turn on the GPS built into my camera, but instead leave the mystery of the location to allow viewers to create a general sense of the environment at that moment when I took the photo.
Kangaroos at dawn
When it comes to a series of images, as I often use in writing stories about my travels, a viewer may get a sense of the journey I was on, and hopefully some enjoyment from the narrative- but inevitably a reader will never know from their remote location exactly what it was I saw with my own eyes, and the feelings I had while I hiked along a steep a coastal bluff or deep into an ancient forest. The best images cannot manifest a crisp wind on their face, or salty scent from the ocean spray, though I do try to convey that feeling as best I can.
And what then for video? If still images offer a seemingly infinite amount of private moments thanks to online social media, between those photos, does film reveal all that we are to anyone whom watches? I wouldn’t think so unless somehow the medium were to go on for a lifetime- and then who would watch that?
New growth after a bush fire
Equally, readers cannot presume to understand all there is to an intimate and talented writer such as say, David Quaaman, because he writes about personal experience and his feelings towards such events. Any writer will write how they feel about a particular subject at a particular time but that does not sum up who they are. Human beings are far more complex than that, and that is precisely why Google’s CEO made a fool of himself when he announced that a corporation could read our minds. Posting a blog about my experiences last weekend or last year can indicate where I have been and may predict where I might like to go, but no individual future is certain. All life is chaotic.
Perhaps that is what draws some of us to nature in the first place. Maybe it’s not the nurture, so to speak, that I had as a child, but rather within us all is the complexity so close to chaos that nature had reflected back to us.
Mr. Schmidt’s overarching conceit was picked out by the wider public instantly but that can be understood. Google is amazingly wide reaching and I give the popular search engine thanks for allowing my work to be seen by more than a few dozen people, but to presume to know what people are thinking is not something any CEO ought to say aloud as it leads itself to an Orwellian picture. To try to organize ourselves and the natural world is a futile exercise better spent on a hike in the woods.
Sometime I don’t take the shot that may, or may not be a really great photo. Most likely, the best case scenario for one of my photographs is that it will be a flashy image of an attractive location that would make my online media followers ‘like’ and perhaps resent me a little. If the image is truly spectacular and I am lucky I might even sell the rights on a stock image website. But sometimes, when the moment is right, I take a personal moment just as it is-a personal moment. I don’t take the shot, and in doing so, I have made the moment more special, the location more intimate. It’s a pre-internet feeling that is quite wonderful to experience again.