Our Digital World Edward Frank
May 29, 2009


If you look at the past centuries, many of the more memorable people kept personal journals and diaries.  You can read Julius Caesar's accounts of his military expeditions.  There are the Journals of Lewis and Clark as they explored the American west.  There are the accounts Charles Darwin and his voyage on the Beagle.  Many of the lights of literature have had their letters and correspondence published posthumously.  Some decry the loss of letter writing as an art form.  I personally do not feel this loss, much as I am not worried about the proper spacing for the pony express stations.  Our methods of communication have changed and evolved over time.  Perhaps some quality aspects of letter writing has been lost.  Each letter was written over a period of time.  More thought went into the words and the message the author wanted to convey.  Today with email words are dashed out in a few minutes and sent across the world in seconds.  There is a loss of thoughtfulness in these emails. Words are sent out that we may at times wish to take back.  But there is a sense of immediacy in emails that was not present in letters that took weeks to deliver.  There are trade-offs, some good, some bad.  The genie cannot be put back in the bottle so we must strive to make the most of our communications as they exist today.

On my trips and vacations in the past I would keep a scrapbook of the places I visited.  Rather than put it in a large format , I chose to make mine in a standard boo sized, hardback, blank journal that I could buy at a convenience store.  It gave the final product more of a feel of a real book, rather than a album of clippings.    I would include materials from the many free leaflets and pamphlets given out to tourists and visitors at rest stops and in every tourist trap around.  Occasionally I would include a purchased postcard.  I have maps that fold out, clippings that open, and hand written notes to fill the books in addition to the photographs I would take and the memories I would keep.

The source of these reflections was an article in North Star, January -June 2009, the magazine of the North Country Trail Association.  The article is entitled "Keeping Digital Souvenirs" and is written by Tom Moberg  http://www.northcountrytrail.org/  Unfortunately the article is not available online. The article looked at technologies that allowed you to keep digital souvenirs of your hikes.  These included: 1) GPS, 2) Audio recordings, 3) Video clips, and 4) Digital photographs. It also talked of the uploading the materials to various internet sites, and the creation of WebPages.  Some GPS models can e used to create and export tracks of the hikes that can be overlaid on maps, or if you desire on maps at Google Earth to create 3D views and flyovers of your hikes.   Audio recordings are not something I ever really thought about but comments can be recorded as you hike, bird calls and other sounds can be recorded.    I have a small digital recorder that will record continuously for over 8 hours that cost around $30 dollars.   It runs on AA batteries.  It could be used to record comments or thoughts as they occur.  (I will need to try it). The same can be done with video clips only with a video image to accompany the sound.  Many digital cameras have an option to record short video clips with sound, although their sound capability is sometimes awful.  We all know about digital cameras. A person could take hundreds of digital photos and keep only the ones they want.  I like to photograph informational signs that tell me information about the photo subject. At Yellowstone, for example, each of the geysers are named.  I would take a photo of the sign with some background, then try to get a good photo of the feature itself.  All we need to do is to carry extra batteries and digital cards.

The difference between centuries past and today is what we do with our memories.  When I visit a forest of measure trees I post to the ENTS discussion list to share with other members.  Of my other activities I have an account on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=709156957&ref=name and MySpace.  Here I can post blogs about my activities unrelated to trees.   There are sites that simply host blogs for those interested.  These sites allow you to to post photos, text, video clips, and audio clips.  You can post your thoughts in the excitement of the moment.  You can include links and bits from other websites about the places you have visited. You can add maps from www.teraserver-usa.com  or other sources.  You can link to a myriad of other resources to augment your own experiences.  You can share more of your experience in more different mediums than ever could be shared via letter.  On the other hand, a letter allowed perspective on your adventures as it took time to write and in its very nature gave the writer a chance to pause for reflection.  This character is often lost in quick emails ad blogs.  Also lost is the feel of holding a letter or book in your hand.  There is a soothing tactile nature to holding a book or piece of paper that is absent from holding your keyboard and reading from a screen.  I don't think people will go back to letter writing with the immediacy of email and the internet so integrated into our everyday lives.    We can strive to give more thought to our posts, and more reflection in our blogs.  We need to take better advantage of these new mediums as we move forward.  I need, and we all need, to better organize out disparate postings in a more comprehensive manner, rather than the current hodgepodge of a little bit here, and a little bit there.  Instead of a paper trail to the future, we are now leaving an electronic one.

Ed Frank

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