Pre-smartphone Siena, Italy

Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy – Oct. 19, 2007

Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy — Oct. 19, 2007

I’ve been a little obsessed lately with how ubiquitous smartphones have become. I think what kicked it off was seeing photo after photo in Michael Galinsky’s beautiful new reprint of The Decline of Mall Civilization, shot in the late winter of 1989 when no one even had cellphones, much less smartphones. That time is gone forever. I’ve gone down a bunch of YouTube rabbit holes, listening to people from various generations share their new appreciation for old dumbphone technology and all the things you can’t do with those devices.

I wondered: How alien would some of my own old travel photos look if I hunt for images of large numbers of people, taken in the pre-smartphone era? The answer is in that photo above, taken at Piazza del Campo in Siena in October 2007, right after the iPhone came out, but right before you saw any in the wild. The BlackBerry existed, but it had nothing like the traction that iPhones and Android phones did when they passed the point of no return.

No one in that picture was neck deep in their phones. I think I see one guy talking on a flip phone, but that’s it. Everyone else was chatting, eating, drinking, sitting with their hands folded, looking at something on paper, gesturing, etc. Some of them were probably bored, but I bet they were happier than they would have been by checking in on the river of likes from their stash of social media apps. How can we forfeit the high-resolution scenery in front of our eyeballs in favor of someone else’s thoughts and experiences delivered via impoverished little screens?

Also, I’ve noticed that browsing old Canon A570 photos (in Photos) on the iPad Air is so pleasant that I don’t know why I don’t do it more. It’s enough to make me want to switch to shooting all JPEG, highlights and shadows be damned. I’m sitting here enjoying a ton of photos I’d never really looked at closely in all these 16 years. I’m not trudging through a library” in Lightroom Classic on my laptop and worrying about whether it’s de-mosaicing RAW files correctly. Why do I make things so difficult and slow?

October 2, 2023