A quarter century ago I often kept a book around, sometimes lugging the book around and catching a page or two on a city bus or commuter train. Moving to Micronesia meant that I could not wander into a book store, rummage the shelves, and find a book of interest. Occasionally the library would acquire a book of interest to me, or more rarely I would request that a particular text be acquired, but these were rare events.
My taste in books is both eclectic and not best seller. Books on statistics, physics, and running tend to hold my interest – genres that even the largest bookstores would carry in limited selection only. By the turn of the century Amazon had come into existence and provided a potential option. The books I preferred, however, were often hardback, expensive, and shipping to these islands always carries a probability of loss. Not to mention that once here, books decay in the heat and humidity. There is no building up of a personal library in the equatorial tropics.
Back in September 2014 I upgraded from a Nokia Asha feature cell phone to an LG Android smart cell phone. A trip in October caused me to add a Kindle app and a book to read on the long flight, with little thought to use beyond the one journey.
Although the LG is a small screen relative to the size of a book or a monitor, I was pleasantly surprised at the readability. In 1999 Bill Hill wrote at length about the “magic of reading,” bringing together research on ludic reading, Optimized Serial Pattern Recognition (OSPREY), and generating the immersive flow that accompanies reading at length for pleasure. The paper delved into fonts and screen resolution.
In 1980 computer monitor resolutions were too low to support fonts, let alone sustained reading for pleasure. In 1984 the Macintosh introduced screens with resolutions that could support fonts. By the 1990s increasing monitor resolutions suggested that screens would eventually equal the resolution of print products. I recall being in conversations about whether screens could or would replace the printed book. As an over-generalization, older readers felt that screens would never generate the flow and magic of books.
The rise of social media after the turn of the century caused an ever increasing number of people to spend significant time reading via a monitor. By 2015 reading done from a screen around campus clearly dominated reading from a book.
The Kindle book on the LG was a one off experiment for the purpose of a long flight, I did not expect that I would find readability and flow on the small LG screen. Once I discovered that I could enjoy a book on my cell phone, I continued to read after I returned.
The books were not free, but each cost less than a single night of stone sakau. Reading only happens in the interstitial moments between other daily tasks, thus a single book can last me a month. That makes reading a less expensive habit than weekend sakau, a definition of affordability for me.
Reading on the cell returns the ability to spontaneously grab a page or two of reading here or there. While waiting for a meeting to start, or in a bank line, or while sitting in the car waiting for the shoppers to finish shopping. No need to lug around a book, I have a small library tethered to my hip. I carry my books even when I am running, they do not slow me down.
I was looking at the shelf today and thinking that thought that so many educators have thought before me: doesn’t this change everything? Is this not a change on the scale of the Gutenberg press making possible school text books?
I do not know where technology may take education, I only know that after a quarter century I am reading regularly again. Technology has again changed my habits and my personal quality of life, in this case enriching life on a small rock in the Pacific ocean.
College of Micronesia-FSM Founding Day 2015 on Pohnpei was themed “Improving Learning Through a Cultural Lifestyle.” Ultimately the day is one on which the students have the opportunity to celebrate diversity and the unique cultures of Micronesia.
Kosrae culture since the late 1800s has been interwoven with the culture of the missionary Congregationalist church. One hundred years ago the Baldwin sisters still had their female students wearing Mother Hubbard style dresses. Over the years the church dress has evolved and changed. From left to right are dress styles that range from the 1960s to the present day. One of the changes that is less apparent is the choice of fabrics. Dresses were primarily plain colored cotton, now they are synthetic prints.
The Kosrae float would take first place in the float competition. This year the founding day working group opted not to attempt to judge the dancing and performances, a decision that I consider to be a wise one. Judging the dances and performances is fraught with difficulties and challenges both artistic and cultural. The float rubric was reported to be a simplified version of that used two years ago. This year I opted not to join the founding day working group, I also deflected an inquiry as to whether I wanted to head up the judging.
The Kosraean dress on the left is unusual. The fabric is a tie dyed fabric that would likely have become available in the 1970s. The style of the dress also suggests that the dress is from that era. The dress is evidence of the influence on Kosraean fashion of trends in fabrics occurring outside of Kosrae.
The Kosraean princess dresses in a modern interpretation of a generic Pacific island look. This too is in part a result of the external influences on the islands of the other islands.
The parade up main street occurred under a mix of sun and clouds. Conditions were hot, humid as usual. Walking on asphalt in bare feet is not recommended. The students are keen to be as traditional as possible, but zoris are still a good idea.
The Yapese chose to carry a cement stone money piece rather than a cardboard replica. This proved to be a taxing undertaking. There was a water stop at center point, but the water stop ran out of cups. The young men were dehydrating, and were thirsty. They asked for water, but could not obtain any. I ran up to the field and found that the water containers in the tents also did not have cups. I did locate bottled water in the building used to stage the lunch and ran three bottles back down route to the Yapese stone money carriers. I was not as concerned about the short haul into the field, but the cumulative effect of overheating that might be a factor by the time they danced four hours later in the day.
Not being on the committee, I had not been around to pass along the recommendation that each float carry a case of bottled water in the event a marcher became dehydrated. Our students are not all physically fit. Some have underlying health issues, some are out of shape, some already have borderline high blood pressure.
Beverly Billy on the lead at center point, at the water stop.
Just before parade start another old dress style joined the parade.
The Kosraean women performed a dance up at the field.
The Kosraean outfits
Pohnpei dance group consisting of a mix of students and community members.
Jacoline Siba Palik.
Chuukese women performing a stick dance variation. The carpet was critically useful in insulating the students from the heat of the rubberized track surface. The program also did not take a formal lunch break, which was also a good decision given the temperatures on the field. While a couple people said to me, “They are islanders, they can take the heat,” I know that heat takes a toll on everyone. No one is immune to the effects of working out on a hot sunny day on the equator.
Outer island Yapese women performing.
The Yap proper dancers danced in the anchor position, last, as they have traditionally done each cultural founding day.
The float rubric used this year was:
Not at all
How well the float fits the theme of the parade.
Creativeness and originality of the float.
Attention to detail and design, fit and finish of the float.
Effective use of local materials
Difficulty of construction, level of effort
Items that move are well used and coordinated
Good and appropriate use of color on float
The “costumes” rubric used this year:
Not at all
Effective use of local materials for traditional costumes
When I am asked, “Ia romw wi?” I answer “Kelai” as one tends to do, but I do not actually know how I really feel on any one given day until I have been running for twenty minutes. A better answer to the question would be, “I do not know yet today, I have not yet run.”
Running for thirty-six years seems to have had an effect on my legs and body where the first twenty minutes everything is heavy and slow. And twenty minutes is the magic number, something I was reminded of by Haruki Murakami in his book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”
“When I put on my jogging shoes in the morning and set out, my feet are so heavy it feels like I’ll never get them moving. I start running down the road, slowly, almost dragging my feet. … But as I keep on running, my muscles gradually loosen up, and after about twenty minutes I’m able to run normally. I start to speed up. After this I can run mechanically, without any problem.”
Only after that first twenty minutes does my body let me know how the systems of my body are functioning. Only then do I know if my body is up for running or is simply not feeling the need for speed. Or distance. Twenty minutes is
when I know whether I am actually “fine” or in a biorhythmic slump.
One kilometer in eight minutes, a very slow start on a hot, sunny, equatorial afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky – a very forbidding sight indeed. Only the distant salt haze towards the horizon.
Eight minutes into the run there is no sense yet whether I have a long run available in my legs. Everything is tweaking and twinging like metal expanding under the summer sun, the sensations of muscles and joints warming up.
Two kilometers is another eight minutes down the hot road. Only now am I starting to make sense of what my body might be capable of in the 33 Celsius humid heat of equatorial Pohnpei.
At two kilometers is 4TY store, owned by an active octogenarian who joins local 5K fun run/walks as a walker. He is an inspiration to me on each and every run, and his store reminds me of my relative youth at 55 years old.
Seven minutes later I am aware that my legs are feeling good, there is strength and reserves on board. I am finally feeling warmed up and ready to go. I know that must seem odd to those who do not run – I have to run for twenty minutes before I know if I can run. I imagine that there are those sitting on their sofas who cannot run for two minutes, let alone twenty. With my legs now clicking over mechanically, automatically, I have trouble imaging what a body that cannot run twenty minutes must feel like. Just after a baby starts walking, the baby attempts to walk faster, to toddle, even to run if possible. There is a pure joy in running that every two year old knows without being told. Running is fundamentally fun. Or it was, when you were two. And is, when I am fifty-five.
The road ahead at three klicks into the run. Behind me to the right is Genesis hospital, on the left is the Pohnpei state hospital. Two emergency rooms within a hundred meters of my position. There is some comfort knowing that I pass these twice in a run to the river.
The bridge. The Dausokele bridge across the Nampil estuary in Nett. The bridge is often my destination on an evening run. On a late evening run I race to beat the loss of sunlight on the deck, a race to catch the last rays of the sun streaking down the surface of the bridge. Today I am early and the bridge is bright in the afternoon sun.
From the bridge the view south is of verdant mountains, tropical rain forests, mangrove and mountain tops.
The view north is back towards Kolonia. On a long run I will exceed the farthest point seen on the left shore of the estuary. Scattered clouds exist in the distance, but where I run the sky is clear, the sun piercing.
Just over the bridge at four kilometers and thirty-one minutes. Substantively slower than my usual five kilometer pace, but the heat and my thoughts of going long have me running at a go easy pace.
Further up the road in Nett and the view ahead remains tropical, green, and shadeless.
The cars that pass are not those of strangers. Some call out my name as they pass. A colleague and friend heads back up to Kolonia, possibly packing a few bottles of sakau. In Madison I never know who is driving the cars around me, where they are going, or what they have been engaged in doing for the past ten years. Around here that knowledge of those around me is not unusual. This is a different place. There are students who I have known since they were born, whose parents I have known longer than the student has been alive. I can look at one who lost a father and is letting their grades slide and say, “This is not what he wanted for you.” I get to see the cycle of life played out in my classroom, on the island around me. Some of my students are the third generation of their family who have been students of mine. When they bring their new baby to campus, I look and wonder if I might be around long enough to see this fourth generation at the college. Unlikely, but one never knows.
Six happens just shy of yet another bridge.
The bridge between the municipalities of Nett and U. The bridge seems a good place to turn and head back into town.
When I run I often become lost in my own thoughts. Thoughts come and go, flitting into my mind and back out again. I miss the seven kilometer mark as I come up on Palipowe junction at 7.17 kilometers.
Up that road once lay a number of small sakau markets I frequented some two decades ago. Some may still flit into and out of existence. Up that road are memories of evenings by the waterfront. Sakau sessions with friends, some of whom now gone.
Eight kilometers is part way back to the Dausokele bridge and also marks my crossing the sixty minute mark. The time from twenty minutes to just over an hour is a golden time of easy running, of my legs simply ticking over without conscious thought. That golden time is much longer, I have discovered, in colder climates. The heat of the equatorial tropics is always debilitating, even for a veteran runner.
Now the sun is starting to graze the bridge deck, reflect, and scorch the westbound runner.
At nine kilometers more familiar faces alongside the road – students seeking a shady place to sit and chat.
My shadow testifies to the continued lack of shading clouds. The few clouds that appear in the sky are small and far away. Even at 5:17 PM the heat has not left the day. Not yet. The temperature remains above 30 Celsius, the humidity hovers around 80%. Even as the temperature falls, the humidity climbs, offsetting the drop in temperature.
Ten kilometers at Ace Hardware, another friend heading from work in the shot. Here I stop to rehydrate with Gatorade at Ace Commercial grocery store.
The changing face of Kolonia at eleven kilometers. A major construction project.
Twelve kilometers puts me on the causeway out to the airport. My pace has slowed under the relentless sun.
The view across the water at 12 kilometers. The views I enjoy on a long run are wonderfully scenic.
Thirteen kilometers brings me to the airport, a place of hellos and goodbyes, some for only short time, some forever. The airport is the only hub of comings and goings on the island. If you want to leave, you have to use the airport. Only yachties have the ability to sail away. There really is no other way off of the rock, unless one counts the occasional boat to a neighboring island.
Sunday and the airport is closed. There is only one flight a day, and none on Sunday. There is a flight that lands in the small hours of Monday morning, having left Guam on Sunday evening. In general the airport is not a busy place, except at flight time.
Fourteen kilometers is up at Misko beach. This will mark the final turn-around on the run. I cross two hours of running in the sun and I am feeling the effects of the heat. Even at six in the evening the tropical sun remains hot.
The palms have a personal significance at Misko. The one on the right dropped a coconut on my wife, glancing past the side of her head and hitting her shoulder. Her shoulder still has issues that seem to stem in part from this time. A direct hit on the head by a large coconut would be fatal. One does not usually sit under a coconut tree, but this one had been deemed safe to sit under. No one saw that there was a coconut ready to fall.
At fifteen kilometers the sun has finally sunk low enough to cast tree shadows across the road.
The view from the causeway at the fifteen kilometer mark.
Farther down the same causeway I cross 16.1 kilometers. Now my legs are feeling less lively, less bouncy. At two hours and twenty-one minutes I can tell that my range is limited.
The golden hues of the setting sun color Nett point ridge line across the water at 16.1 kilometers.
The sun is behind distant Sokeh’s ridge beyond Spanish Wall ball park as I climb back up into Kolonia town.
Seventeen kilometers strikes on a main street directly in front of the post office.
Five year old Tristan called the newly repainted post office “milk and blue”
On my way up weather station hill, the family car whisks past me without pausing. The family knows that even though I have been on the road for two and half hours, I am fine and do not want a ride. I always feel I have to finish what I start. I put myself out there, I have to get myself back in under my own power. I suspect all distance runners have this sensation. We might be reduced to a limping walk, but we want to finish the run upright and self-propelled. I was still jogging along, running would be too generous a term, but the temperature was finally starting to slip and evening was beginning to settle over the island.
The weather station silhouetted against the rather cloudless evening sky.
Some distant clouds appear in the gap between Sokehs ridge and the ridge line that separates Nahnpohnmal from Palikir.
Eighteen kilometers appears seven minutes later. Horses know when they are near the barn and pick up the pace. I return to the seven minute pace with which I began my run.
Another few hundred meters up the road familiar children with familiar gear, my run is at an end.
The trip up the driveway includes babies being ferried by barefoot RipStik riders in matching long skirts, not necessarily an unusual sight around here.
The run ends 500 meters beyond the last kilometer mark, two hours and forty-three minutes after I started, but 22 minutes was in water and photography stops.
Night falls fast in the tropics, and though the sun is set for only six minutes, the light is already fading. Any longer on the road and the run would have become a night run. Near the end of a good run I do not want the run to end, and yet I am happy to be home. Thus a run ends with mixed emotions. A desire for the run to continue, a contentment at arriving home. A sense of joy imparted by the run, a sense of loss that the run is over. All runs must eventually end, and therein lies a metaphor for life for a runner. A long run. The joy is not in the destination but in the journey. Enjoy this immediate moment here and now.
The distance runner is a breed apart. The long hours of training for an event are not spent on a pitch in the companionship of teammates. Many days no one knows whether you trained. Or not.
Rainy windy evenings the only pitch is that of darkness. The only companion your breath and heartbeat. The world dissolving into a gray blur, only your own focus on your effort remaining sharp.
There is an oft spoken about loneliness, moving too fast to connect with anyone even should one happen to pass someone. A disconnectedness even while running amidst people one knows. There is always that sense of being in a moving void, fully present, yet completely absent.
Nothing external compels a distance runner. There is no team to let down, only a singular self. Out on the road there exists only the individual will to run.
Although I returned to a written reprimand (non-attendance graduation) and docked pay (missed six non-teaching work days), three weeks off the rock in December and January refreshed me to my bones. By not consciously thinking about teaching for twenty-one days I find I have some new curricular ideas and a reservoir of energy with which to work.
Vacation, as in traveling to somewhere distant, is a curious activity. There is little to suggest that traveling into unfamiliar places with unknown dangers would have been a survival benefit to our ancient ancestors. Staying home almost always had to have been safer. Yet the deep allure of travel is present across cultures.
Micronesians arrived in these islands on voyaging canoes, long journeys over open ocean. That first canoe, or canoes, had to be traveling uncharted waters. The question “Are we there yet?” as unanswerable as “Where are we going?”
For those on a voyaging canoe the journey was only partially calculated risk, a gamble that what lay beyond the horizon was worth the risk. Yet as modern voyaging canoes have shown, capable navigators could hold courses and make return voyages. Navigators had skills in finding islands in the vast Pacific, reading swells and clouds. Those sailing lived off the sea as they traveled.
Arrival at a new island that was large enough to support life had to be thrilling. The new island would look strange and unfamiliar, and that would make the arrival all the more exciting. That aspect of travel is still there for my tropical island raised children. The “islands” they visited are not just different, they are exotic beyond their imagination.
One can see the Cloud Gate in a computer image, the skyline reflected by the gleaming curved surfaces. Being there is viscerally different. The brain suddenly comprehending the size of the Cloud Gate while not comprehending the scale of the buildings just across Michigan Avenue. The sound of the city, of traffic, distant sirens ever-present, cold air whipping across Centennial Park and past one’s ears.
Our brains adjust to the daily world around us and eventually treat the sights and sounds of home as background noise. Home is rarely exotic on a daily basis. For those who commute past a wonder of the world, the sight is a daily occurrence, an ordinary event. For children who regularly see the Cloud Gate, the structure is far less remarkable than for children raised on a rain forest island of coconut palms.
For a child raised in Alaska, snow is a given. For a child raised in Micronesia, a first meeting with snow is beyond magical. In that moment of discovery and joy one’s brain is completely flooded with wonder. That sense of wonder is contagious, even an adult can feel that sense of seeing the world anew.
Ancient humans undoubtedly traveled primarily out of necessity. The need for a new food opportunities, uninhabited lands for ever-expanding families, or to escape a deteriorating life situation. Survival sometimes favored those brave enough to move, to abandon the place in which they knew how to survive. The new environment presented new challenges and required a sharpness of mind. Today travel is recreational, but the sharpness of mind, the attention the new environment requires, is still there.
In that absorption of the mind with the new surroundings is a dropping away of the mental load of the daily ordinary which was left behind. The brain gets to do a reboot and reconfigure, a refresh of the brain circuitry. Upon return from the journey, the mind retains the benefits of the refresh. There is a sense of being recharged and re-energized. While constant, continuous travel likely becomes mentally exhausting – travel would be the daily ordinary for such a person – for those of us resident for years in one place, travel can be refreshing in a very deep sense.
Shades of grays, muted dark browns, blacks are all I can see. Blurs that loom up and then rush past me. A twilight run in the forest on the shortest day of the year at 42 degrees North latitude.
The sun set two minutes before I hit the three kilometer loop through the woods and over the rolling fruitless zone prairie. A run racing the darkness down in the hollows. Forested ridge backs hide backside cliffs, the trail threading past them. In the gathering darkness widow makers loom over the trail, helping mark my path over the forest floor.
Amidst the trees I run at full open gait, time is against me. The dying of the light drives me ever harder in growing gloom.
At speed – alone in a chilling forest – I am on fire, my mind completely focused on the run at hand. Form is everything. Drag my feet for even a single stride and I pick up a branch with my foot. Tripping is not a useful option in darkness.
Sometimes you only have a single shot to get something right. Sometimes there is no second chance. Running reminds me of this. Running happens fast, raising children happens more slowly. There are still times in your relationship with your child when you have only a single shot at getting it right. At those times focus on placing your words as carefully as footfalls in a dark forest.
The run was not going particularly well. Pings and pangs in various odd and sundry leg muscles, no rhythm, no energy into the uphills. My tennis ball tosses lacked control, errant tosses being fumbled and lost to the ground. I was dragging bottom on the way home, still trying to find shards of shaft, pieces of power. As I headed up the final hill on my home stretch I saw a friend headed out on an evening run.
Despite my dysfunctioning form, I swung around to join him. As we headed down the hill I had struggled up, he noted that he was headed out for a run up Sokeh’s ridge. I had not run up that road, walked up a number of times, but never tried a run. The first section is a long, slow, climb up to a switchback. As we climbed I felt stronger and better than I had on the roads of Kolonia.
From the switchback up the road steps up the slope, like a treadmill gone way too high. I started at an uphill jog, and made it past the first couple gentle bends along the rock faces, but the hill eventually exceeded my ability to feed oxygen to my muscles, broke my pace, and I walked the final meters. Still, I felt fantastic, much better than at the end of my short little lower town loop right.
I had headed out the door to run a short out and back to Spanish Wall. I had no intention of seeing if I could run up to the top of the ridge. The presence of a fellow runner, however, caused me to push myself to see what I could do on a day when I was not running all that well. Good friends do that – they push us to do more, be more, reach farther. Good friends are encouragers. My thanks for the push I needed.
Two decades of living and running on an island, rarely leaving the rock, means that my running routes are well worn tracks. I know every twist, turn, and pothole. I know the distance and duration of the route, when sunset will occur, and when the road will go dark after dusk – year round. I know the houses and inhabitants I pass. I know the dogs that may give chase. There are very few unknowns after twenty years.
A rare chance to travel to somewhere I have not been is a chance to run with all the variables unknown. That first evening on which I arrived I immediately donned running shoes and headed out on a running trail I had identified only from Google Maps. The trail headed up into the Pisgah national forest along the Davidson river.
Dusk was settling on Brevard, North Carolina, the temperature was dropping below sixty Fahrenheit, and I had only tropical running gear. I did not know the trail, I did not know the time of sunset nor the duration of twilight after sunset. Every variable was unknown, including how my body would respond to the cold and elevated altitude.
As I headed into the forest a crash in the woods off to my left suddenly reminded me that these forests had animals in them. The forests of Pohnpei might contain a few escaped pigs, some miniature deer from the Philippines, and a few large lizards, but not much more. The forests of Appalachia undoubtedly include a broader variety of larger animals.
Three nights later I had become accustomed to the longer twilight. On a visit to a home three thousand feet up on a ridge line I bolted out the door after sunset to push the my mental limits. The air was cold, frosty cold, the night falling fast on the ridge. My camera could capture only blurry images in the fading light. I was again on new terrain, this time not even a pre-designated trail. I started off on a wide trail littered with leaves that eventually dropped down onto a white gravel road.
The white gravel road first struck my brain as being coral, but running on the road I felt no round, cylindrical, rolling rocks. The gravel was some other white gravel. In the dark and the cold I did not stop to examine the road more closely. After a short trot along the road I came to a cross-country high tension power line and was rewarded with a vista view.
Runners get to see places others never do get to see. Running in a new place rewards the runner and reminds the runner that self-imposed limitations are just that – limitations of the mind and not the body. At three thousand feet up in a forest I was still running in tropical running gear as the temperatures slid towards 50 degrees and darkness fell in the forest around me. My host was more than gracious and I enjoyed a quick hot shower prior to rejoining the rest of the group.That is a run I will long remember and treasure.
Returning home I also had the opportunity to run a new route when the Australian embassy sponsored the Aussie Wombat Walkabout five kilometer fun run starting from Mangrove Bay. This meant an immediate opening climb from sea level up a hundred meters – 300 feet – by the time one reached weather station hill. The open few hundred meters was the steepest portion of the climb – slowing the runners from the get go.
I ran the run in something over 30 minutes, forgetting to close the GPS track at the finish line. When I did close it, back at the car, I had covered 5.25 kilometers in 36 minutes.
Although the start and finish were new, much of the route was my daily route. Still, the new start added a challenge and made the run that much more fun.
Traveling long distances tends to leave one feeling less in control. The places one will sleep, eat, and work may be unknown, the foods may be different. Even one’s schedule and activities are often structured by others. While on the road running is sometimes the only activity where one can feel some sense of control over the activity. Running always helps bring a sense of balance, and a sense of connecting with a place more intimately. The result is a far more enjoyable road experience.
Each new place presents the challenge of unknown routes, durations, distances, and environmental elements. In the newness is a vitality that keeps one feeling young.
If I had any advice to give to the youth it would be to start running when you are young and to keep running. Run for your life, for the good life that running can bring.
An upgrade in cellular technologies has returned global positioning satellite capabilities to my joggling runs. Previous GPS technologies involved the use of hand held Garmin eTrex units. Running and juggling deprives me of the ability to hand carry a GPS unit. The recent acquisition of an LG Optimus II P715 has provided GPS capabilities while running and juggling. Arm mounting a GPS on a joggler produces a suboptimal antenna orientation, but given that the platform is a cell phone, the unit performs rather well. Google Tracks provides app support with maps, even out here beyond the outer edge of paradise.
By the GPS I did not return to where I started, but then a run does change one. One probably never does return to quite the same place as where one was where they left. Maybe the GPS unit is a philosophical unit, but more likely the GPS unit lost satellite signals under the trees up into Dolihner.
Although the details are not accurate, the general elevation trend echoes the actual run. I start about a 100 meters above sea level, descend to sea level, and then return to 100 meters above sea level. The speed data seems overly optimistic.
The third screen has a variety of numbers. The calories burned is rather meaningless, and the maximum speed is the result of loss and regain of signal. 18.09 kph is sheer fantasy – the spike can be seen on the earlier chart.
To say one went for an hour run does not have the sense of documentary reality that the LG screen shots convey. Underneath the images is a KMZ file with universal date time stamps, coordinates, and altitudes – some 3000 rows of data, of numbers:
The 3000 rows of numbers feel, to a numerophile, to be even more real than the images. Images can be photoshopped; generating 1500 coherent, correctly geolocated date-time-longitude-latitude-height in meters data points is a far more daunting task. Easier to just run the route and collect the data. And a lot more fun.
Near the end of the day ask yourself two questions. Have I seen any interesting numbers today? Did I run today? Did you?
I am a spectator paparazzi. That is, I take pictures of those who watch the stars. In the past the audience was an anonymous mass, and certainly the modern mega-paid mega-star is built on the wallets of those anonymous millions who watch. One went to see the stars play and did not expect to be seen, possibly did not want to be seen. The social media generation is different. They want to see the action, the game, the stars, but they also want to know who they know who was there watching the action. Which of my friends was at the game? Were they styling? Who was jumping up, dancing, singing, and shouting?
I go to the games to take pictures of both the action and the spectators. I may ask for permission, explicitly or implicitly. The latter happens when I point my lens at a duo, trio, or more often a quad and they immediately smile, pose, and throw shaka and peace symbols.
The pictures are not for me. They are for their friends and family abroad. Children who long to see their mother, fathers who have not seen their son in a long time, friends who want to see another friend’s face. A phone call lets them hear their voice, but mom and dad are always, “We’re fine,” whether or not they are actually fine. A photograph is reassuring – seeing dad is a little older but still looks strong is reassuring to a son or daughter working overseas.
In the past I had, at most, thirty-six 35 millimeter film shots to work with. I rarely had spare film or budget to take more than thirty-six images. In late 1997 I acquired a Sony digital camera that permitted my first experimentation with the world of digital photography. The camera I carry today can store up to 17000 photographs at the resolutions I work at. I can simply shoot continuously, or at least until both of my batteries are dead.
The medium by which photographs are shared has changed as well. Newspaper articles might include a single image. A photographer had to catch the single most iconic instant for that news story. Magazines might feature a spread of ten to twelve photos for an article. A photographic team might take hundreds of photos, sometimes thousands, culling through the images for the ten or twelve really magical images. For every jaw-dropping gorgeous National Geographic magazine photo there were a thousand images discarded.
The limits on image distribution and sharing have changed radically. FaceBook albums hold 200 images, all uploaded at no financial cost to the photographer. Today’s viewer of photographs does not want a single iconic image. They want an album of 200 photos they can scream through on their broad band connection, stopping and pausing only at that which catches their attention. And not just a single album. Multiple albums.
I oblige the modern desire for a flood of images, providing “firehose” coverage to the extent that I can. I do not select images and the only editing I do is to delete blurry or inappropriate images. The rest get posted on line. No cropping, nothing. Raw feed, the more images the better. And yet some viewers have written saying, “More please!” This is also a characteristic of the social media generation. Sensory overload is not possible for a generation raised on iPads and xBoxes, a generation accustomed to being always on and connected.
Generation social media wants images of the event, those at the event, and lots of images. This is the brave new world of media.
Not only the off-islanders want more images, a local friend noted the same paucity of images. There are teams of photographers working the games, but the photo galleries appearing on line on sites covering the games often mimic a magazine. Articles include a single image. Photo galleries are nine to ten selected images. None of these teams is operating in the “shoot everything, post everything” mode, nor can they. One team of photographers is a youth media team who are being taught to capture iconic images, to select images, to be shooters and editors. Images are cropped and rebalanced to shine after the fact. The firehose photographer has to crop the image before they shoot. Whatever is in the frame at the time of the photo stays in the frame.
There are other differences. The newspaper and magazine photographer expects and deserves credit, if not also remuneration, for their images. For the professional, photography is part of their professional life. The pro gun usually includes a signature watermark in the image. One photographer in these games puts their watermark across the middle of the image as if their name is the star of the image. Spectator paparazzi may be relatively unknown, and if known, they are typically not known for being photographers. They may lack any photographic skills. They shoot everything and often post everything, including really blurry shots from low end cell phone cameras.
When I shot one image of a volunteer and her friend, her friend told me to be sure the image gets put on FaceBook. The volunteer turned to the friend with a puzzled look. The friend explained that I was the guy putting up all those albums from the games. She seemed incredulous, she found it hard to believe the images were being taken by me. She knew of me, but had no idea I was the one taking the images.
I post my images in albums with the privacy set to public – in other words, no privacy. This allows my 2500 plus friends and acquaintances to freely share my albums with their friends, and thence on to third and fourth connections. The albums do not expire at the periphery of my friends or friends of friends. No restrictions. Images get downloaded and then re-uploaded by others, and this makes me happy. I do not own my images. If anyone owns the image, the owners are the people in the image. I only captured some photons of light in transit at a particular instant in time. I own nothing more than the camera.
Another difference is that for the professional images are art, to be seen and appreciated but not necessarily not interacted with. Most professional, corporate, and institutional photographers post photos with tagging disabled. There are often legal reasons for disabling tagging. The spectator paparazzi is all about tagging and connecting. Social connectivity and interactivity are primary goals of the social media photographer. If a tree falls in an empty forest it makes no sound, if a photograph has no tags and comments then the photograph fails to exist in a social sense. The more tags and comments, the better the photograph, regardless of whether the photograph is artistically worthy or not. An exquisite photograph with no comments, no tags, and no shares, is a social media failure. A crummy, blurry, unbalanced shot with a plethora of comments, tags, and multiple shares is a success. Photo quality is irrelevant, photo connectivity is everything for the social media photographer.
Not only is tagging allowed and actively encouraged, but the social media photographer befriends all comers. The judicious use of groups such as acquaintances, close friends, family, and other groups helps keep the social media photographer’s wall from being swamped by information of no meaning or use.
I also know that if anyone points a camera at me, I have to strike a pose, look my best. I cannot hide behind my lens. I am fair game in the spectator paparazzi photo firefights. I also always try to photograph the photographers when I can. To make a sweeping over-generalization, sports photographers are usually so focused getting the action picture that they are rather oblivious to everything else around them that is not action, including, and maybe especially, other photographers. They have to be focused to get the iconic shot on goal, the moment at which the game was won.
There may be a difference in equipment. Using a long telephoto lens on a single lens reflex photographic body to take what are essentially portrait pictures is intimidating up close, creepy when done at extreme range. The little point and shoot I use requires that I get up close and personal to get a good FaceBook tag worthy photo. I cannot get the stop action photo of the critical moment in the game. The distances are typically too great.
I have one other asset that is useful, at least here on Pohnpei. My face. Having lived here for 22 years and having taught over 3000 some students I am fairly widely recognized and known. In almost any crowd I will know someone. I am an elder in a society that respects elders, a member of the community. My children were born and raised in Pohnpei and Kosrae. People know me and many know that I post photos to FaceBook, sometimes people ask to be photographed. Other times I know relatives abroad who enjoy pictures of a particular person and so I know who the photo will have to be shared to. And some, seeing me coming, hide like a rock star avoiding publicity. Athletes have to expect to be photographed when in action, the spectators have no such expectation. When an event is open to the public, free of entry charge, and held in a public facility, personal photographic privacy may be violated even if inadvertently.
I use the word paparazzi in part to reflect the gray areas in which I sometimes operate. A granddaughter in North Carolina might ask, “If you get a chance, take a picture of my grandfather.” Now I may know that grandpa would prefer not to be photographed if given a choice. Yet he is present at a kamadipw at which I am taking pictures. Do I avoid shots in which he is present or get the granddaughter a picture that makes her happy? Add in that grandpa does not use FaceBook and the granddaughter does – so if I snag a shot with him in the frame, he will not realize he was photographed and shared via FaceBook. Who’s desire for happiness trumps? By Pohnpei rules the elder, but wherein he is unaware there seems to be less harm done by getting the granddaughter the image she so desires.
Eight days has produced eight albums and just over 1500 images, none of them worthy of “publishing,” all of them “published” on social media. Tag, like, and comment rates push upwards of a hundred an hour. This is the new media order in social media – quantity over quality. Photos of everyone and everything. Viewed and forgotten in the same instant, as ephemeral as a conversation and yet important to feeling connected for those who view them.
There will certainly long be a role for the professional photographer and the work that they do. I argue only that there is a new genre of photographers who play by different rules for different goals, differences made possible by social media. Maybe call it koinonikophotography, although anthrophotography rolls off the tongue better.
If you see me roaming an event, either strike a smile and a pose to let me know you are open to being photographed, or duck, cover, and run to avoid being caught on digital by a spectator paparazzi.