This Saturday, the 19th of August, was World Photography Day, so let me start with a simple, direct confession – I love you. We go back a long way now – I used my first DSLR more than a decade ago, and I still think that I have done some of my best photography using you. I have defended you against the invasion of those who insist that a smartphone can take “DSLR quality” images just because of a slightly larger aperture, sensor or a smidgeon of an optical/lossless zoom. A DSLR, I have always maintained, is not just about picture quality – it is about modularity and flexibility, and above all, a foundation on which you can build photographic structures. You have one body and add lens like limbs and organs to it. They are still trying to attach modifications to phones – DSLRs have had them for ages, from mics to flashes to lenses. In my book, there are not too many gadgets that offer one as much flexibility as you do. Yes, I do love you. Which is why I guess I need to tell you something you might not like to hear:
You really need to change.
Don’t get me wrong – this is nothing personal. There are millions of people out there who are very comfortable with you the way you are and will call me a heretic for daring to suggest I change something that works so well – indeed has been working so well for years. But you know something? That is where the problem lies. The fact that there is a section of people who think you are perfect the way you are. Yes, they love you too – and perhaps more than I do, but I really believe you need to look beyond them.
In every technological advancement, older technology has had its adherents who believed it was just fine and indeed much better than the “new stuff” that is coming on-board. I remember how many people opposed Windows and preferred older DOS – “no need to fuss with a mouse or anything.” And people who saw Gutenberg’s type insisted it was nothing compared to handwriting. Hell, even more recently, less than a decade ago, we had people saying that touchscreens were no match for “real” buttons on phones. As I write, there is a war being waged between those who insist paper and not the words on it are what make books readable and those who are advocating a move to digital books. We all know how those battles ended (the book one is ongoing, though). Which is why I think those who believe you are just fine and do not need to change are actually working against your best interests. For at the end of the day, mainstream technology, contrary to what a lot of people believe, is not just about productivity or making something.
It is about ease of use.
And you, my friend and love, are not easy to use.
Believe me, I know. I have been using you for a decade now, and there are dials, buttons, and menus on your person that I have never used and will perhaps never do. Not because I do not want to (I do, really!), but because the process of learning their functions is just too darned painful – their usage is about as intuitive as tooth extraction, and instruction manuals remain alas as readable as the Iliad written in Martian! What’s worse is that many of your followers consider this to be some sort of strength rather than a fragility – proof that you are “special” and cannot be mastered by everyone (and of course, by proxy, this makes your users special too, but that is another egotistical story for another day). Yes, you have added a few new touches to your person – there are touchscreens, twistable displays, Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS… and a whole lot of other bells and whistles. But at your core, you remain complex as ever. As knotty as the mane of a maid who has taken one toss in the beach sand too many.
But you might ask – “why do I need to get simpler? There are so many people who love me the way I am, and some of them are really great photographers.” The reason is simple – because you are awesome, so awesome that you need to be accessible to everyone, and not just a small group of pundits, no matter how fanatical their following. What you possess is a great power – the power to let anyone capture moments in time-based from their own perspective. Why should you then be restricted to a chosen few?
What makes a product or technology go mainstream, reach the masses, is its sheer ease of use. Yes, affordability does play a role too, but as the Apple II and the iPhone have shown us, people are often willing to pay for this little thing called convenience – something that allows (nay, even empowers) them to be independent and do things without depending on someone else. It is this that led to the rise of camera phones – yes, a lot of people will say it was because people did not want to carry an extra gadget, but the real truth is that cameras on phones were so much easier to use than even basic point and shoot cameras, and allowed users to share results easily. Yes, you still remain the apple of the eye of every serious and wannabe photographer out there. Those who use you well feel that there’s not any need for you to change. Their interest, alas, is different – by keeping you restricted to a small audience, they retain their status as specialists, much as “PC operators” used to a couple of decades ago. But make no mistake, you are difficult to use. So much so that many (maybe even most) of your users – and I belong to this group sometimes – end up using you as a point and shoot camera, simply using auto mode. In many hands, you are exactly the same as a camera phone, only different in size and shape – a bit like using a cannon to kill a mosquito. The reason? People have not the time or the patience to understand your functioning. The experts could make it easier, but that would mean giving up their expertise, wouldn’t it?
Which is why, this World Photography Day, while others are going to spend time paying – very well-deserved – tribute to you, I am going to ask you to change. Change, before it gets forced down your throat. Become easier to use. Make your menus for humankind rather than machines. Make your interface easier to face and understand. Use language that can be understood without a dictionary or a degree in engineering. Become as simple as a point and shooter. Give everyone the opportunity to make the most of one of the most amazing gadgets on the planet. I would hate to see you end up on the scrap heap of tech history just because, you, like so many before you, preferred to heed the praise of a sycophantic few than the needs of the masses.
PS: I love you. Still.