Weekly Discourse Column

Why I’m More Embarrassed by My Nice Camera than By My Crappy TV

The first thing everyone notices when they walk into my house is the old box TV sitting prominently in my front living room. This seems like a source of embarrassment to most people, as one time, the front door hadn’t even shut when a visiting ten-year-old asked “How can you watch that thing!?” It was perhaps the first picture tube his entitled little eyes had ever seen.

That box TV has served my wife Jenny and I well for many years and survived two cross-country moves without being any worse for the wear, although it does need to be muted occasionally to stop its persistent hum.

We’ll be happy to replace it if it ever gives out, but for now, it seems to be doing its job rather well and neither Jenny or I have any shame in letting it dominate our living room’s decor.

A visiting friend once refused to watch the World Series on my TV, but it worked out fine; we simply went to a sports bar, where it’s better to watch sports anyways.

Perhaps it doesn’t bother me because, growing up, we always had outdated TVs. My brothers and I had an Atari as kids that we played for hours with no complaints on a black and white TV. It wasn’t until years later that we even learned Atari was meant to be played in color. Shortly after that, Sonic the Hedgehog blew my nine-year-old mind.

Antennas were a part of our lives for years after cable top boxes became commonplace and I’ve continued the tradition by recently watching an entire season of a hit Netflix show on DVDs borrowed from my local library. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

Sometimes, having outdated viewing technology is actually a blessing. For example, my favorite television show is Meet the Press, and it probably wouldn’t be if I had to watch it in high definition.

I was staying overnight at a friend’s house in Marietta, Georgia, the first time I ever saw Meet the Press in high definition – it’s no mistake that I haven’t been back to Georgia since. There’s nothing more haunting than waking up on a couch to the high-definition sight of David Axelrod’s jowls.

And while yes, it would be nice to have high definition available for the shows I watch with fancy special effects, like 60 Minutes, my old picture tube box set is still getting the job done (even if most graphics get cut off on the sides of my screens).

Accordingly, it is a little out of character for me to have one of the nicest introductory DSLR cameras on the market, which my wife Jenny recently got me as a thank you gift for being so supportive while she got her MBA. While I was glad that we both recognized me as the true hero in my wife’s attaining a higher education degree, the quality of the camera is unlike anything I would ever buy for myself.

I get self-conscious when walking around with the camera, as if I’m announcing to everyone that whatever I see that day is inherently worthy of preservation, either just because I’ve seen it, or because I have such an amazing eye for detail that all should treat me with great reverence.

Putting the camera strap around my neck can feel as pretentious as flipping the end of a scarf to best accentuate the tilt of one’s fedora.

Displays of privilege make me so anxious that I once deposited a $100 bill into an ATM just to immediately withdraw five twenties because I thought the clerk would think I was putting on airs.

As I feared, the first person we showed the camera to immediately asked how much it cost. Feeling embarrassed, I answered only, “much less than an MBA,” ironically shaming my wife with the gift she gave me for supporting her pursuit of that very degree. Perhaps her next degree should be in psychology.

But, I’m glad we have this camera because of the quality of value it will bring further down the road.

I’ve thought a lot about the quality of our family photos and videos ever since I became the keeper of our family records after Mom passed away. I rarely look at them, but when I do, I wish that she and earlier generations had invested a little more in the quality of what eventually got passed down.

We mostly used wind-up disposable film cameras or took Polaroid snapshots that struggled under most conditions. Most of our family records are blurry, shaky or barely noticeable behind the wandering finger obscuring part of the camera’s lens.

Every picture from my college graduation has our heads cut off because Dad loaded the film at an off-center angle. Time blurs our memories enough, the camera needn’t help it.

I don’t know what kind of screens my future descendants will use to access whatever family records survive the handing down of generations, but I’m more concerned about their future viewing quality than in my being able to read all the different graphics on tonight’s CBS Evening News. That may change as soon as we’ve got the mortgage paid off, but for now, it suits us both just fine.

Next week: Newspaper Love Affair

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