Does the term "digital camera" mean anything to you? Of course it does! Or does it? Though digital cameras are seemingly everywhere and I can barely remember a time when they weren't, they've really only been on the public's radar screen for a year or so, and on that of insiders, gadget freaks and early adopters perhaps for one or two more. It's hard to believe how new technologies sometimes sneak up on us and become part of our lives so that we can't imagine ever having been without them.
I was reminded of that fact when I read an editorial I had written for our sister publication, Pen Computing Magazine, for the April 1995 issue. Here's what I wrote: "Does the term 'WWW' mean anything to you? If not you better catch up quickly. WWW stands for World Wide Web and is a graphical, hypertext-based interface to the Internet." I went on to explain how the web works and what it could mean to people and businesses all over the world.
A mere five years later it seems inconceivable that there was a time when people didn't know what the Web was. And even more inconceivable that there were "experts" who dismissed the web as just a toy and a waste of time, just as the printing and design industry had once dismissed desktop publishing. It's all a reminder that reality can be stranger than fiction. Even the most imaginative sci-fi writers of yesteryear were wrong in their depictions of the future far more often than they were right. That's because it's much easier to look at existing technologies and project linear improvement than it is to predict something new and radically different.
Airplanes have jet engines instead of flapping wings, electronic devices have tiny slivers of silicon instead of vacuum tubes, and printers use lasers instead of daisywheels. No one could have predicted that. This same syndrome also explains why the "tricorder" device from the first Star Trek series of the 1970s looks antique and quaint compared to, say, a Palm V PDA.
PCs, CDs, LCDs, cellphones, the Web, and many other breakthrough technologies have fundamentally changed our society. People who resist computers have become unemployable in many fields. Those who reject CDs won't find much music to play. Cellphones have become (pesky) necessities. Without those big, gorgeous color LCDs there wouldn't be notebook computers. And a company without a website might as well close its doors.
Now we have digital cameras, and though they look almost like film cameras, they are more closely related to a PC than your old SLR. Had you asked someone ten or 20 years ago what the camera of the future would be they'd have talked about better film and better optics, and perhaps a motor transport that didn't eat up the film. Or 30 minute instead of one-hour photo labs. No one would have said, "We need to replace film with electronic devices called CCDs and then process the data in a PC instead of a lab. And we'll store the data on CF Cards and get it to the PC via USB." Absolutely no one--with the possible exception of some brainiacs in a lab somewhere--could have predicted what actually happened.
That's why the digital camera industry is trying so hard to make digicams look simple. Which they are not. And that's where the problem lies. While switching from vinyl records to CD meant little more than buying a CD player, switching from a film camera to a digital camera means a lot more.
I've been preaching about this almost since the day we started Digital Camera Magazine and the volume of email I receive on this issue shows that I am on to something. If smart people who are moderately computer-literate and have no problem handling a website ask me the most basic questions about digital cameras, and then email again because my standard "Digital Cameras 101" answer brought on many more questions, then, Houston, we have a problem.
In fact, even advertisers have asked us to put more basic "How to's" into the magazine instead of all those updates on the latest and greatest megapixel digicams we're so fond of. Naturally we'll oblige, so expect to see a lot more tutorials and features on how to get the most out of your investment in this exciting new technology.
In the meantime, don't hesitate to ask questions. From us, from software companies, from the people at the local electronics store who try to sell you the latest super-duper multimegapixel digicam, which they insist you need. And from the manufacturers who sometimes crank out half-finished, poorly thought-out product as fast as they can, thus condemning your expensive new digicam to obsolescence almost as soon as you bought it. The computer industry, shamefully, established a trend of using consumers as guinea pigs expected to help them fix the bugs in their products. Don't let that happen with digital cameras, too.
If you don't know what a digital camera is and how it works, and what it can do for you, don't be embarrassed. It's a wonderful technology with almost unlimited potential. It can change and enrich your life, do wonders for your business, and make your Aunt Edna happy. But it's a technology that's really quite technical.
So be sure to ask until you get a good answer. Don't get shamed into buying something you don't understand just because you're afraid the kid behind the counter might think you're a dope if you don't. Life's too short to spend it trying to get technology to work. Technology should serve you. And that is one concept the digicam industry seems to struggle with.