What’s with the black & white picture of the train on this weblog’s masthead? Well, the short answer is that it was taken at a metro stop in Paris back in 2003. I took it with a Nikon digital camera by setting the shutter speed to 1/15 of a second (so the train would appear slightly blurred and convey a sense of ‘movement’). I had to brace the camera against a column to make it so everything else in the picture was not blurry, and I used the 2 second self-timer too. The solo figure in the foreground was not something I planned, but it was one of those lucky things that ‘made the picture.’
So why did I use it for my weblog? That’s the main question that I
get asked. The answer to that question is a little more complicated.
When I started blogging I had my weblog hosted by Radio Userland (see here). I was able to choose a name for my weblog, but not a masthead picture. I’ve already described how I chose the name,
and what that name means to me. In August of 2003, I moved my weblog
to the Typepad service that I now use to host it. For the first time I
was given the option to have a masthead picture. I didn’t really know
what to use, and nothing seemed to go with the whole ‘Ernie the
What exactly was that motif anyway?
Frankly, I had never really thought about it. Selecting an
appropriate picture made me stop and ponder the question. Sure, law
was one common topic. But I was really more interested in how people
dealt with social change, or how they avoid dealing with it. All
societies have to balance their traditions and norms with the need to
adapt to new circumstances. Long ago virtually all ‘new circumstances’
were introduced by nature. Now, technological advances –created
solely by people– are bringing about many of the most challenging
changes that we face.
So here we are in this world where we have to adapt to the new, and
yet also try to preserve the old. Every day, in every segment of
society, we have to face these sorts of questions: what’s worth
preserving? What’s impossible to preserve? What forces of change are
inevitable? Which ones are dangerous? Are some of the dangerous ones
also inevitable? And then as we examine their dangers do we learn that
we are over-stating their danger because they challenge deep-seated
values? Do some of our deep-seated values need to be reexamined
because they produce more conflict than social benefit?
These are the kinds of questions that have always stirred me. And
that’s what I began to reflect on back in August of 2003 as I came
across the subway picture.
Something made me wonder what it would look like if I converted it
to black & white. My first reaction to this notion was to reject
it. After all, the picture was taken ‘in color.’ I decided to
experiment, knowing that, since the image was digital, I could convert
it back to color if I didn’t like the black & white version. But
as soon as I made it black & white it acquired an unsettling
aspect, which was striking.
Somehow it seemed to capture what I wanted to talk about. The image
suggests, to me at least, the stark choices that we are increasingly
facing. Technology is advancing at a faster pace, which is represented
by the moving subway. Yet, many of us feel isolated and bewildered by
the nature of technological change, and by its increasingly rapid pace.
The young fellow in the picture seems at ease in the underground world
of subways, even though he’s alone. Then again, maybe he feels
powerless because he can’t really control the world around him. The
more you examine the picture the less certain you are about how the
young man feels.
How do you feel about the changes you encounter in your life,
especially the changes brought on by technological advances? Do you
ever feel like you resist things reflexively that are actually
beneficial? Do you sometimes feel like other people, when they are
challenged by sudden change, fail to act in their own best interest?
Do you ever get the sense that certain social groups resist certain
changes to the detriment of society as a whole? And do you ever feel
like they do this because they cling to a tradition that is losing its
vitality? Those are the questions that I want to keep asking myself,
and the people who read this weblog.
I feel like the subway picture is consistent with these sorts of questions. And so, in a nutshell, that’s why I chose it.