A very good friend of mine recently posted an entry on his blog dealing with elements of the digital world. An admitted and extremely knowledgeable audiophile, he can easily wax poetic about analog versus digital recordings and why analog is superior; something he touched on in the blog. (Incidentally, he isn’t an analog snob and would be the first to state digital recordings have distinct advantages, but that’s like saying both a Chevrolet Corvette and a Hyundai Tucson will get you where you want to go, although the Tucson gets much better gas mileage.)
As I continued reading his prose, he piqued my interest by touching on digital photography which is, naturally, of more than passing interest to me. As with digital recordings, digital photography is built on the computer world’s binary system of using electronic ones and zeroes (on and off states) to represent variances in color and light. My friend noted that an image format popular with Web sites is the GIF, which can display 256 colors; a number that might seem impressive but pales when compared to the very popular JPG format (approximately 16.8 million colors).
I’m not going to get into the technical differences between formats – in fact, I won’t even explain what these abbreviations stand for (if you’re that interested, open your favorite search engine and go for it). Suffice it to say that GIFs are nice for Websites and JPGs are generally good for printing photographs, although you’ll also find them on the World Wide Web.
Let’s go a little deeper. There are several other image formats one can use, and many advanced cameras allow the user to select which format he or she wants to use when taking pictures. One that I favor is the RAW format, which allows up to approximately 68 billion colors. Incidentally, depending on which authority one uses, RAW format can capture about 400-450 times the number of colors the human eye can detect. That’s right – more colors than the eye can distinguish.
A quick and not extremely deep search on this topic yields conflicting numbers, with the Web sites I landed on ranging from 7-16 million for the number of colors we can see. But the most interesting information I found (and this was on a number of what I consider reliable Web sites) claimed we can only see a couple of hundred colors at the most; the variations were relative to the intensity of the color. More to the point, color is just the term we’ve chosen to describe our perception of how wavelengths reflect or emit light off objects. This is a simplification and I don’t claim any expertise on the subject, as anyone who understands how the millions of rhodopsin-containing rods in our eyes’ retinas convert light to electric current through the optic nerve to be perceived as a color by our brains could much better describe.
Which is a long-winded way to get to the thought that hit me when I read my buddy’s blog: People are exactly like colors. We have two genders, and most of us have preconceived ideas about how those genders are supposed to appear (as positively, negatively, and everything in between); think (from those who are intellectually impaired to those who exceed the standards for membership set by Mensa); act (the huge range from passive to aggressive); behave; and you get the picture (no pun intended). We are, in fact, living RAW files.
Getting back to colors for a moment, I now understand paint strips – those rows of cards with colors on them so you can decide which one would really look best in the dining room – and appreciate the perseverance it takes for whomever comes up with the names for the many degrees of color intensity; names that very often never really make any sense relative to the specific color. Zack, the younger of my two sons who created this Web site for me, has always been amused by the name “Navajo White.” I confess that one always makes me want to scratch my head.
I also understand the need for image-enhancing software, such as Photoshop, even though I am not all that keen on using it. RAW files are dense and can be easily manipulated using software. Why would I want to alter a photo? If, for example, I take a picture of someone and they have a blemish on their cheek, Photoshop (which I will now use as the generic term for all image-enhancing software) has the tools that will allow me to “remove the blemish.” I don’t mind doing that if the blemish is a minor, temporary one (e.g., a pimple, or a razor cut). I also don’t mind using Photoshop to adjust the lighting of a picture if I erred in how my subject was illuminated. But I kind of draw the line when it is employed to seriously alter the truth of the subject. (The exception being when this is done for the purpose of obvious humor, such as putting your friend’s face on Brad Pitt’s or Beyoncé’s body.) The massive altering I’m talking about is common in advertising.
Each and every day many, if not most of us, use a sort of variant of Photoshop to interact with others. I would refer to this as “image-projection-enhancing software,” and the program we use is known as attitude. How we present to our significant other is very likely to be different from how we present to our boss, our children, our teachers, our clients, total strangers, and so forth. I would argue that even those who would claim they are the same person for anyone and everyone would, in fact, show distinct, if not subtle, differences in their interactions. Some of us would be as paint strips with slight variations within what many would call the same color, while others would be several different paint strips. (You might even know of people who would be the entire rack of paint strips at Home Depot.) For the most part, you are the number of attitude strips you need to be.
Truly, I am not trying to suggest there is anything wrong with this; in fact, it’s a necessity. Perhaps more so if one interacts with a wide spectrum of personalities on a regular basis for a specific purpose. I have to believe that Jon, my other son, who is an emergency services psychiatric social worker, would agree whole-heartedly. That’s not to say that I think Jon presents as a different person to the population he serves, but that how he deals with one will be somewhat different from one person to the next, depending on that person’s needs. His wavelengths might vary somewhat, depending on the needs of his clients, but they always reflect from the same surface. Of course, the same could be said about Zack and his interactions with the many different people he deals with. (While Zack is not a social worker, on occasion he probably feels like one.)
Which is what I believe the vast majority of us tend to do: change our wavelengths (switch attitude strips), so to speak, to deal most effectively with other people’s needs. And on some level, we know we’re doing it. If the situation is one we’re planning for, we’re already at the rack determining which shade of attitude will best suit our purposes (think of the last time you had to deliver bad news to someone). On another level, what we’re doing is seeing what is needed to remove a blemish, or adjust some lighting. We want to be distinguishable in a certain, effective way, but not indistinguishable. The lighting must be just so. What attitude strips do you use, and how often to you mix them up?
It’s the people who regularly present themselves as if they’ve placed their faces on (insert famous person’s name here)’s body that you should be wary of, especially if they then present to the next person as someone else altogether. I think it is one thing to shift from some degree of a color to another, or even another strip, but quite a different thing to go from Navajo White to Fall Harvest. If we reflect our attitude wavelengths as if they originate from different sources we risk losing credibility.
And with the billions more of attitude variations than there are color variations in a RAW file, credibility is one tough commodity to have returned once it has been lost.