a shaky point of view: the hand-cam

The past several years, there’s been an increasingly common trend in video and film — the hand-cam. You know what I’m talking about; the camera is hand-held, and so shakes ever so slightly and unpredictably, offering a raw, “documentary” feel to the piece. I think most people assume it’s simply an aesthetic choice, and a faddish one. I think there’s something much more existential going on.

For me, the hand-cam serves as an interesting example of how our species is responding to life with technology. There are two points I would like to explore.


From the get go, film has been concerned with the vision of the
director — something roughly equivalent to the omniscient narrator in
a piece of literature. Such an approach has a singular goal: to relay
events as objectively as possible. During the course of the piece, we
are to forget that we are
watchers, and are to hand ourselves over to the perspective of the
person telling the story. We are expected to assume the perspective of
another. We are to lose ourselves.

And this is the first point I would like to make: the increasing
frequency of hand-cam shots tells me that directors (consciously or
not) are trying to remind viewer that they are watchers — that they
have a perspective. The mild unsteadiness of the shot jolts out
attention and reminds us, “Hey, I’m looking.” Where as before we were
encouraged to become unaware of our role as watcher (that is, to lose
ourselves), it now seems that being self-aware (that is, to find
ourselves) is a priority to film makers.

This first point runs into the second: we in the technologized
world are reacting to the identity-stripping effects of technology, and
are asserting ourselves as participants in (and masters of) its
function. We don’t simply want to watch a story take place, we want to
be caught up in it with our own point of view.
Yes we know full well the story is scripted and being lived outside of
us, but the reminder that, “I am here, and I am here watching,”
convinces us at least in part that we have been considered and included. That we have not been ignored.

This is true in almost every area of human life in the west. Our hearts
cry out for inclusion. We realize how technology, though task enhancing, is not necessarily life
enhancing. In fact ,it might very well be life inhibiting (by life I do
not mean biologically, but ontologically). There is something in us
that is reacting strongly to our being swallowed up be our devices.

Thoreau said “Men have become the tools of their tools,” almost 150
years ago. This sentiment was echoed in the work of McLuhan, his view
being that our inventions overtake us and that ultimately enslave us.
Baudrillard, I think, took this view to its limit saying we don’t even have
a real anymore, and it has been utterly replaced with a copy of our own
creation. I would take all these men to be correct if it were not for
one key point: there is no time when humanity more fiercely asserts its
existence than when its existence is threatened.

This is as true regarding identity as it is physicality.

Take analog music, and vinyl specifically. It has, since the mid to
late 90’s, been making a steady come back (and not just among DJ’s).
Yes, I’m aware it is a form of “technology” to be sure, but what does
the function of this
technology tell us? When you think about it, it’s really quite primal:
a disc with grooves cut in to it that you can see and touch and a
little shard of metal that bounces around in those groves, turning
current into sound. It is a technology that involves the user in a very
inclusive way — one must place the disc on a turntable, and then place
the arm on the disc, carefully.

It is not automated. It is intimate.

Consider, hardwood floors and granite counter tops. They are all the rage in home decor, and have been increasingly so.

Without looking very hard, you will find do-it-at-home silk-screening
kits to make your own graphic t-shirts. It will require even less work
to find someone that knits or crochets their own hats and sweaters.

The most visited sites on the Internet are social — you’re participating in the Social web by reading this.

The point is: we will not be overcome by our devices, and we certainly
will not let the human experience be engulfed by waves of automation
and code. Our response — or protest — is to include our functions with the functions of our devices. Or, more correctly, to make the function of our devices dependent on our function.

But making our technology dependent on our function, we remind
ourselves that we exist. We will find ways to limit our progress, so
that our progress will not limit us.