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Editor's Note, June 2011 PLSN - Is Technology Making Us Lackadaisical?

In the June 2011 issue of PLSN, which should be hitting your mail boxes shortly, I wrote about technology and how it is making us lazy. The goal of my Editor's note is to inspire and bring concerns to light. Yes, I love using lighting puns. I am re-printing it here to invoke a response and get the conversation started. Am I wrong, or do you see it in a different light, (another bad pun)? I want to hear what you think.


I’m addicted to technology. I love technology; overall it is a wonderful thing, both in our personal and professional lives. But is technology making us lazy? Not physically lazy, though technology could be blamed for my extra pounds; I’m talking about being lazy with our communication and designing habits.
For instance, the text editing software I’m now using shows two misspelled words, and one sentence is flagged due to questionable use of grammar. Of course, this is during my rough draft, and it will be polished before you read it. However, I’m relying on technology to watch my back before this story is proofread back at the office. During the draft stage, those squiggly red and green lines are catching the mistakes. How often is spell check correct? How does it not know luminaire is the correct word and spelling? It’s easily corrected by adding it to my software dictionary — or by ignoring it all together.
Texting on your cell phone is the technology du jour. I’m not the best or fastest thumb typist in the world, but with small screens you’re inevitably going to hit the wrong letter. Your mind is already 10 words of ahead of what is on the screen. Cell phone manufactures recognize this and incorporate a neat function into their phone’s operating system — auto correct. Problem is, auto correct is not always correct. We have all been there. You are typing the word “shot,” and auto correct suggest the same word, only replacing “o” with “i.” This is not what we intended to text to our mothers! Again, we’re relying on technology to help us make fewer mistakes and complete tasks more quickly. It’s my belief these time-saving technologies are not always saving us time, but costing us time.
In our professional world, technology is getting more powerful day after day. With technological advancements, are we losing the core fundamentals of design? Is technology making our lives so much easier we put less time and effort into our work?
This subject can be argued both ways. Like many designers, I use the Internet day in and day out to research, collect images, communicate with the design team and, from time to time, for Facebook. This is a far cry from how I use to do research in college — visiting a library, photo-coping images, poring over books and magazines. Oh, and if I wanted to “Facebook” with someone, I called them, or headed over to their dorm. Thinking back on it now, it sounds so archaic!
It may sound antiquated to the next generation of designers, but I still love swatch books. I still use two Maglites corrected to 3200K and hold a swatch book to them to test and play with color selections. Sure, everyone knows what R02 is and what color it produces on it own, but what if you mix it with a little L322? (I know — I just tested it and I am not telling, try it out for yourself.)
I love the “old fashioned” way of mixing color. With the advancements in LEDs, the rainbow is yours to choose from in a blink of an eye. This instant gratification of color selection gives off the appearance of time saving. What it does is actually change your design process. I have heard designers say, “I want a red; I’ll just pick it out once we’re in the theatre.” Actually, this mentality is a disservice to your design, the design team and the overall production. Precious time can be spent in tech picking out the perfect color instead of perfecting other areas of the production. Technology may make color selection easy, but it can get time consuming, just like searching the Internet. Before you know it, you have been “tweaking” a color for the last 30 minutes, with the actors on stage and the technical director cursing you out.
Technology… one minute it works, connecting you to the world. The next minute, it eats your e-mail and you can’t get a signal. Love or hate it, technology has changed the way we live and function. In a couple of years, we’ll be asking ourselves the same thing we do today: “How did we ever live like that?” What are your thoughts? How has technology changed your world?

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Comment by Hrvoje Bilic on June 17, 2011 at 2:09am
We have many a monument of past ages; we have the palaces and pyramids, the temples of the Greek and the cathedrals of Christendom.  In them is exemplified the power of men, the greatness of nations, the love of art and religious devotion.  But the monument at Niagara has something of its own, more in accord with our present thoughts and tendencies.  It is a monument worthy of our scientific age, a true monument of enlightenment and of peace.  It signifies the subjugation of natural forces to the service of man, the discontinuance of barbarous methods, the relieving of millions from want and suffering"
 - Nikola Tesla's speech at the opening ceremony of the hydroelectric power station, January 12, 1897.
Comment by Klyph Stanford on June 16, 2011 at 2:31pm

What I see as the problem is not the technology per se, as much as it is a lack of discipline in it's use.  Yes, technology like CMY mixing and LEDs allow us to get multiple use out of a single piece of gear, but part of the reason we used to spend so much time pouring over swatch books is because we were making choices.  We were looking at the color of the scenery and the color of the costumes, we were considering the time of day, the type of implied light source, and the emotional content of the scene.  And we were making those decisions before we walked into the theatre.  We were doing our jobs.  


This is not to say that a choice is not being made when I call up the R80 in the Seachanger profile, but if I wanted R80 why didn't I just spec that to begin with?  And too often it seems the answer is: "Because I wasn't sure when I was turning in the plot, and I wanted the ability to change my mind." So I have now made the producer pay to rent a $100/ week piece of gear instead of my making a choice so that she could buy an $8 piece of gel.  

The other disadvantage I see in the "I can get any color I want with the flip of a switch" is it can prevent you from owning your choices and finding a way to make them work. Last year I lit a show where after the first few hours of tech, the director came to me and said; "I am not sure about the green."  I asked him to wait till we had gotten all the way through the following two days of tech before we made a final decision.  By the time we got all the way through the color was a huge part of the visual vocabulary we had developed to advance the story.  The show ended up getting great press, especially regarding the design elements, and was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award in every design category.  I had taken a lot of time working out a logic to my color choices, and had we just pulled a lever (or just changed the gel) I doubt our efforts would have been as successful.


I also think the idea that lighting technology makes us more efficient is an illusion.  Every attribute other than brightness requires more time to make a decision and program, especially where moving lights are concerned.  In over 20 years working in this business, I have yet to participate in a tech process that was made shorter by the use of scrollers, moving lights, color changers and the like.  Pre-vis software can certainly mitigate this but that is not a technology that has made it into the regional theatre market, nor is not likely to.

Comment by Adam Williams on June 13, 2011 at 12:22pm
I must agree, she is a two headed beast, technology! As you've made clear above it basically comes down to "Are you using your 'powers' for good or evil?" Technology does make lighting design easier, faster and more efficient in so many ways, as we all have experienced over the years.
So what then are you doing with the extra time you find yourself with? Now instead of having to troll through multiple color swatches you can just slide the fader up and down to get that perfect blend of color. Most would agree that such a thing is a definite improvement, but only if you then use that ability to save yourself some time and move on to the next design element. If you spend 30 minutes tweaking that color as in the example above you are essentially "using your powers for evil"! Overstated? Perhaps, but that's just how I see it! :)

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