Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Here I am in the Gardens State (New Jersey) catching a few precious days with my daughter before hopping on a plane to Atlanta and the glories of RTC 2012 USA

Whenever I visit the land of the free, I am struck by all the little things that are different.  Despite the globalisation of culture & technology so many little details remain to remind us where we are (say for instance we were inadvertently teleported half way across the globe.

You say tomayto I say tomarto.  Little quirks of language act as markers.  Power points become receptacles; sidewalks morph into pavements.  To turn my bedside lamp on I reach under the shade (not the curtain, the lampshade) and manipulate a switch.  In NJ this involves a rotation: once to turn on, again in the same direction to turn off. 

In GB it would be a push to the left, then a push to the right from the opposite side of the neck. There are so many of these small gems that creep up on you unawares.  Sometimes you are aware of a strangeness without being able to home in on the precise details.  I have grown so used to tiled floors in the middle east, that carpets in the home environment are slightly odd and in the bathroom somewhat disturbing.  You would think that faucets translate as taps, but there is something about american design of bathroom accessories that appears odd to the european eye.

I grew up in a world of red brick terraces (row houses).  The equivalent here in Jersey is a series of wooden boxes, decorated with front porches overlooking neat little lawns.

Earlier this year I visited West Africa for the first time.  The contrasts between Dubai and Lagos are many.  Nigeria has lots of oil, Dubai very little.  Nigeria has a lively democratic system, the UAE a council elected by a small minority, which offers advice to the rulers.  Oddly Dubai is much less corrupt, and treats it's population with more respect.

If I sound a little flippant, it's not because I have the answers pat.  Far from it.  The root causes of these differences fascinate me, and I love to speculate, but I have no illusions.  There is no simple formula to explain how Dubai became a space age city on the edge of the desert while Nigeria played out it's tragic comedy of errors.  There is something a little sterile about the streets of Dubai.  It's a bit like living in a theme park.  Lagos is teeming with life.  Note the tell-tale signs of commercial activity on the streets, the open doors.

Yesterday was my first day owning a device called the Inkling : basically a pen that captures what you draw in digital form directly from the pen itself, without having to scan in from the paper you are drawing on.  I used it for the sketch of the bed-side lamp switches.  The image at the top of the page was the digitised version.  The camera shot above is the paper version along with the pen and the receiver device that comes with it.  All you need to carry around is the pen and the receiver. 

It's far too early to say whether this will have the kind of impact on my life that digital photography has, but I hope so.  We need to get the acts of writing and drawing back into the centre of our lives.  Finger gestures are great, but during the transition from child to adult, I developed a skill in using pens and pencils that meant a great deal to me, and sadly much of that has fallen away.

As a species we have been drawing for at least 40 thousand years.  Whether this was for religious purposes, to teach people how to hunt, or as an act of personal expression is open to debate, but the physical acts of drawing and painting have a very long and complex history and often crossed the boundaries between art & science.  What I like about this tool is it's simplicity and adaptability.  Touch screens are OK but we need to find a balance between staring at sophisticated imagery devised by professionals, and making our own images in simple and direct ways.

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