Beautiful Catastrophe


There is something quite unnerving about revisiting statistics for an event which is long in the past. You could look at it as a way of validating the pedestal a particular event holds in time, which may be important. Or you could see it as a way of glorifying something truly horrific, and is likely never to happen again at least not in many lifetimes to come. It is with these perspectives that I clicked on The Fallen of World War II, a digital montage visualising the war casualties between 1939 and 1945.

…more at fallen.io

First up I should say that this is a slick and impressive display of the true cost to generations after the war ended. For major countries it is hard not to see how this war effected them. Often the dialogue surrounds the victors, and the price they paid for so called freedom (because, you know, the US and Britain were invaded and ruled for a brief period. Oh wait). Perhaps with the use of this video you can get a strong indication of how other countries really suffered. Indeed a quick scroll through the comments on Vimeo will show the level of appreciation of the maker’s visualisation.

Yet, I can’t really applaud this interpretation beyond the actual aesthetic, as there are far too many concerns raised here. This is especially important as this year sees the passing of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and we will be reassessing this past in the coming months.

It is well worth noting, and I do have The Fallen of World War II to thank for this important point, that to have fought in the war, veterans now would be at least in their late eighties, many would be in their early nineties. It is highly unlikely that there are many remaining, regardless of what country they fought for, and soon there will be none remaining. It is with this in mind that we need to take more care about how we interpret acts in history.

It’s very easy to do a statistical analysis of a historical event. With World War 2 it’s is particularly convenient as primarily we are discussing the actions of armies, together with their large bureaucratic arms that detail the specifics of each and every recruit, from all those who survived to all those who died. Knowing all this information, like the average age of new recruits, the amount of people who signed up from a particular town or the amount of Sagittarians that died on a Tuesday in 1942 serves a function which distances us from the ultimate tragedy of the Second World War.

The names of some of the people who lost their lives during World War II (Image courtesy rootsweb.ancestry.com)

I’m kind of a geek when it comes to reading over figures and statistics in history. I’m interested in populations, costs, quantities, and pretty much any other detail which can be extracted. But statistics, whether disputed or not, are merely numbers. To turn the millions of people who died into levels on fancy a bar chart does not settle easily with me.

There is little difference in this elaborate display of colours and stickmen to a chart with the countries listed in alphabetical order and the number of casualties detailed beside them. Creating a graph that shows how many people who died rising epically into some digital stratosphere still holds the same level of shock as when the number 20,000,000 is printed. Short of celebrating one’s own ability to create a quite beautiful display, it doesn’t make the lives that actually make up these statistics any less or more valuable.

British troops arrive on Normandy beaches signifying the beginning of the Battle of Normandy which saw over 400,000 soldiers killed.

What I struggle to accept though, looking at the larger picture, is that for all these people who did die, how do we celebrate their story? Does Ireland, a country that suffered only slightly in the war, deserve to be any less remorseful about the events which took place in Europe and Asia? How does a country like Russia or China, two countries that lost a catastrophic number of people, actually account for these lives? These are places we can find it difficult to imagine life in during those times, but grief like love is a universal factor, we all suffer from it to a comparable level. To me it seems that these people’s histories, and the sheer size of their tragedy, have been forced into statistics before we could ever understand them truly.

We are fortunate that the rich television history of the twentieth century has documented many of the ways in which life was lived both on the battle fields and at home. Recently we have been extra lucky to see more real-to-life interpretations, or as real-to-life as we are willing to be trusted with. Story telling brings us closer to the sadness wrought by the sudden death of a comrade, or the brutality of a shrapnel injury.

It is a story that seems to have been ignored. The countries which suffered the greatest loss of life decided to forget what happened. Can you blame them? Even a country like Poland rarely discusses this. Indeed it is not a surprise that the war is not a topic of conversation on every German’s lips, but I can be sure that those people are more aware than anyone of the history their nation created. I wish the same could be said for Japan.

As for the gaping hole in the generations of Russian and Chinese people who had to have been slaughtered to have perished in the quantities they did, what narrative or remembrance can we learn to truly understand a greater significance of World War II? I would hope we can create one which is not dominated by fancy graphics and data, but by realities wrought in the death and destruction of individuals whose fate was decided by men in offices in search of some class of glory.

 

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P.S. Describing every German soldier who fought and died in the war as a Nazi is an unfair accusation. You wouldn’t say that all the Russians were communists, and all the Americans patriots, or whatever.

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Rando Man


The photo below does not inspire much, I imagine. It is in many respects quite depressing. A dry and slightly burnt piece of toast, a cold strip of streaky bacon, and the end of a rather watery looking class of orange juice, all wrapped around a white circular border. It is, other than the leftovers from my breakfast, a pitifully ordinary scene worth no moment of fame in any media. It is not artistic, so don’t go thinking it is. The loose crumb is only a loose crumb, the juice was as I left it, as was the toast and bacon. Just to the right was a eggy plate and a mug with a thin brown layer of leftover coffee. The photo was entirely random. So why bother?

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Regulars to this blog are probably familiar with my use of instagram and flickr, and even on this blog itself my photographs can take up a large amount of many posts, although not all. I use an iphone 4, which by today’s standards is quite a simple piece of phone tech, but it does have a camera on it, which I have with me always and which is very easy to operate and relatively decent quality pics. I also use a Sony DSC-H9 and a Nikon D5100 of course, but my phone is undoubtedly my main camera.

As well as being addicted to taking pictures, I’m also quite interested in new apps and phone related tech, including of course new phones which I cannot afford, or indeed apps that I don’t want to pay for because I’m cheap. It’s quite a dynamic area of the tech market now, and unless an app is successful you can see many being replaced by something similar within a short period of time. For example, I’ve lost count of the amount of different apps I’ve downloaded to help arrange my time, for want of a better description, and I have deleted all of them, prefering to use my regular phone calendar and Evernote. The thing is if you visit the Apple App Store you will always find some new fangled app lauded as app of the week or something which promises to be the next best thing in productive time saving organisational technology.

I’m ranting. I should stop before I lose control.

The point I’ve been getting to is there are always loads of apps which always seem to have some greater purpose, some means for making your life better, or for making your smart technology experience smarter and more wholesome. This takes all apps, from photograph taking, games, organisers, and social networks, to spirit levels and voice recorders, into consideration. But with this little camera app which took the photograph above, there seems to be absolutely no real significant purpose whatsoever. And that’s why it’s worth talking about.

Now don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not selling out, not that I was every sold in or anything. The app is free, or comes at no cost to you, Mr or Mrs/Ms Downloader. I, like every other single person on this planet, am a consumer, and I, like every other consumer on the planet, like to flaunt my consumed goods. So please allow me this moment.

I want to look at what the app actually does, and how what it does fits in with how I often look at how the world exists with so many people in it. I think it does something kind of special, something which we don’t look at enough in the realms of technology and even in terms of human existence. I’m getting pretty deep here, so let me take a couple of steps back and explain what the hell is going on.

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The name of the app is Rando, and it’s a camera app. It functions by simply taking a photograph of something within a white circular border, such as some of the images in the examples above. There is no title, there is no ability to like or share, there is no way to edit, stylise, or even upload a particular photograph. All you know is that there was a photograph taken and more often than not, you can find out where it was taken. It is then sent to the great cloud in the sky where it is randomly sent (although I’m sure there’s some algorithm at play) to another user somewhere in the world. In return you recieve another users photograph. There is no way you can tell who sent or received the photograph. You may or may not find where this user is. It’s as complicated as that.

So says social media addicted world, what’s in it for me? Nothing whatsoever. And that’s what is so great about it.

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It’s no secret that the internet has been inundated with egotism since social media took off. And the greater its influence grows the more we see the egos expand, myself included. One word which is constantly bandied about with social media which is generally not used in the correct context is the word ‘share’. We see it all the time, and particular websites use this term to insinuate that they are providing a fantastic opportunity for you to provide your loved ones and friends with snippets of your life. Of course, this is the idealistic perspective, because anyone who uses social media knows that it is rarely used as a place for sharing, more as a means of displaying.

What this particular app does is different. It is not in any way social, it is more voyeuristic, but not in the sense that you actually know what you are looking at. It sends a picture of nothing, really, other than something which is happening or exists in another place which you cannot see. There’s no liking or sharing of this photo, there’s no applause or means of advertising, there is simply a picture within a white round border. It’s simple but it is effective in its own little way.

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This little app has a fair amount going for it in terms of how we interpret the world. Take exactly where you are sitting or standing at this very moment. Look around you, and while you’re looking make sure to closely examine some fairly rudimentary objects in your proximity. I’m writing at my desk in work so obviously I’ve my computer with a printer just to the side left of it, and too the right I’ve a phone and pen holder, a jar with a dried flower, some paper clips, a stress ball (never used), some throat sweets, photographs, and other nondescript objects which on their own are unnoticable and insignificant. But they are there, sitting, minding their own businness and waiting to be interacted with, much like everything else in the world.

How we choose to interact with much of the world is our own decision. It is unfortunate that humans have chosen that our interaction is mostly on the phyisical and destructive level, rather than a visual one, where we just accept and appreciate each individual element. With Rando though we are seeing tiny scraps of originality, perspectives of this huge planet shared indiscriminately for the purpose of … well I’d like to say enlightenment but I’ve a feeling it’s a lot simpler than that.

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If you think of it in the way that it is simply just informing you or whoever views the photograph that this part of the world exists, and that someone is here, doing something similar to you. We get that impression that the world is not that small, and that we are all less unique. Despite how much we like to think about it people everywhere share the same gripes and concerns, and they see the same things, granted they may be in different shapes.

To conclude, if you could imagine yourself flying on a transcontinental flight as I have done many times, flying over the massive Eurasian continent, and somewhere over Kazakhstan or the Ural Mountains, you look at the flightshow and all you see is a green expanse of country with a few rivets here and there to imply terrain. You stretch your head into the window as much as possible to try and glance down at the land below. There is nothing you can see but you know without a doubt that something is happening there, and someone is there living away and not trying to fly with you. If you thought for a minute what they are doing you would not find a recognisable image, or anything remotely familiar.

I don’t think that this phone app really bridges any gaps here, as it’s completely random, but it does allow you the simple moment, like flying 20,000 metres above or even just driving by fast in a car, where we can catch a closeup of another part of the world. For a minute, we are given the opportunity to consider it. That is all. And then let the world continue to rotate again, until you take another picture that is.

You can download Rando here if you want.

This blog post is not intended as a review and I don’t get any money or kudos from the company who made the app. It was just something that struck me as being worth talking about.

P.S. It seems there’s an incredible amount of Korean pictures coming through. What’s up with that?

Venting/Complaining


I’m angry. I’m full of piss and vinegar and I just want to vent it all over the place. But, I’m not going to. I’m going to accept what it is as what it is and allow it all to flow like a river, or something else flowy, and let everything end up as it does. Somewhere, be it happy or sad.

I’ve been debating with myself what to do here: should I rant on about all the shite that I come across on my day to day dealings with the world, or should I try to see things a little more positively and look at life and the world as the eclectic manifestation it actually is? Here’s my dilemma. I don’t want to do either of these.

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