August 14, 2004

Two friends, it seems, are about to be linked by the track of a storm. (As with two other friends, on another continent, by another storm.)

Social linkages are odd things. Watching the Olympic opening ceremonies, watching some athletes crying and some laughing and some bouncing up and down with barely repressed excitement and some just trying to hold in the grins, and some bored and some even contemptuous of the whole thing, and the Spanish team all over the place, seeking out every camera they could find. One athlete carried in a large photograph of another: I don't know yet the story behind that. I don't know what the actual percentage of athletes competing at the Olympics to available medals is. I do know that for most of those at the opening ceremonies, just having qualified to compete at the Olympics is going to be the crowning achievement of their athletic careers. Walking into the stadium, then, is their moment.

Among the more wired countries and even some of the less wired ones, half or more of the athletes walking into the stadium were videotaping or talking on cellular telephones.

(From within past hospital and aircraft experience, I would have thought that conflict with existing electronics, if not security measures, would have precluded any non media-related radio transmissions from within the building ... and the building and ceremonies showed evidence of some very sophisticated background electronics. Apparently not.)

Some were speaking to relatives or friends. Some were pulled into conversation by media anchors who guided them into turning around so the high unseen cameras could pinpoint them amid the mass of people, and then asked them how they felt about being there. Disconnected from those right beside them. Connected to those on the other end of a radio beam - and where the cameras tightened upon them as they spoke on their cellphones with representatives from the media, those will be many ... I one among that many.

And yet, somehow, maybe it was not necessary, maybe it was too high a price, that I - or perhaps any of the viewing audience - have quite that degree of connection?

I used to take my camera with me everywhere I went, see the world through a camera lens. After decades of shooting film, I have become a middling-fair photographer, and while I can play a little with lighting and shadow and mountains and can almost guarantee not to (accidentally) cut someone's head off, I won't guarantee that their eyes will be open.

There was the first trip into a place where the camera could be allowed within strict limits but was technically verboten, and I, deciding I would rather try to get the feel of the place than worry about whether any given thing I was photographing was legal to shoot or not, decided it just was not worth it, and left the camera behind. For the first time ever, I was concentrating, not on saving the moment for later, but on living it now. My memories of that bit of travel rank among the most intense I had ever experienced up until then. Many places, many people blur in my mind. That one does not.

At the Olympic opening ceremonies, among those who did not bring cellphones, was there envy of those who could be called, who had been pulled away from their moment now for an additional moment in an unseen sunlight?

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