The passport photo that doomed humanity

What kind of man walks into a shop for passport photos, and leaves pondering humanity’s ruin? Me.

I have to renew a passport. The Canadian passport picture instructions are specific on how the photo is taken, its size, framing, shading, the photographer’s stamp…

So I go to my local place. The guy in there is good. But he’s not in today, so it’s someone else helping me. I say I need a Canadian passport photo. Like a good boy, I’ve brought the instructions with me – printed off from the passport application notes. My photographer today shows absolutely no interest in seeing what I’ve provided.

She snaps the photo, and here’s where I learn something new. They have these …machines. Straight from her camera, she sends my image wirelessly to the magic machine, and within a minute, we receive a ‘biometric’ report on the photo. (Her word.) The cool thing is, the software knows each country’s photo guidelines. This is potentially great because there’s a smaller chance of frustration when your application returns to you, along with a note saying your photo is unusable. So overall, this is pretty cool.

Now… Here’s where my inner hippie twitches.

She performs the voodoo with the machine, and the report comes back, and it’s all good. I look at the report, and point out, “These results are for a British passport. I need it for a Canadian passport.” (Like I said when I walked in.)

She blames the batteries in her camera, does the voodoo again, this time for Canadian parameters. The result comes back as unacceptable. We take a second photo. She submits it. Unacceptable. Third photo. Nope. She lightens the image, and finally the report comes back as a pass.

At last, I’ve been accepted

So what’s my problem with all this? Well, the guy that usually takes the passport photos here is a total camera nerd. I like that. I like when people are interested in knowing the job they handle. When I first came to this shop (around five years ago) I said “This is for a Canadian passport” and right away the guy’s response was like “Ah, Canadians. They’re quite fussy. Let me look in my book.” He measured the photograph, cropped it meticulously, and wished me the best. He was genuinely interested in getting it right.

Technology changes, 2017 comes around, and the person dealing with me doesn’t show any interest in the parameters I’ve provided, because the machine is supposed to do it all. But the machine doesn’t know everything. It doesn’t know the photos need to be stamped on the back, and dated. If I didn’t remind my photographer of this, it wouldn’t have been done, and I’d likely see my passport renewal form returned to me.

I’m aware of how old-grumpy I sound. It’s possible I’m expecting a little too much. Not everyone knows everything. For instance I’m typing this on a laptop, and I don’t know how a laptop works. I don’t know how to make a pair of shoes, or a toothbrush, or what’s really happening with my body when I go for a pee. But I do know what I feel, and it’s this:

skills – knowing stuff, being able to do stuff, retain vital information, or foresee possible problems – are all on the decline.

In one respect technology is great – we access mind-boggling amounts of information; we communicate faster than ever; we live longer. But the rate of technological evolution seems to be killing the desire for learning how things actually work. Why would I need to know stuff, when I can just Google it?

To me it seems the most exciting innovations happen with the addition of computer wizardry, and most of us haven’t the foggiest idea of computer fundamentals. For most of us, the extent of our computer knowledge ends with orienting the USB cable correctly.

Computer boffins and software wizards create virtual tools to improve our lives, and those tools live in a tiny phone that we don’t dare disassemble. I can streamline my digital lifestyle, but I have no idea why my computer was looking for a Bluetooth keyboard that was never paired. As for hardware – recently I fixed my laptop power supply, but I had to break the thing open. No screws, it was super-glued together to prevent me getting inside without a fight. All I wanted to do was replace the cable. With grit and determination, I fixed the problem, but now after reassembly the thing looks like a homemade bomb. How can people learn – really learn – how stuff works without getting inside it? Sure, you can look it up on the Internet, but it’s just not the same as taking things apart. Maybe… just maybe… fewer and fewer of us are even interested, and I’m a dying breed.

I remember my dad saying once, you can’t fix car engines anymore because they’re all computer assisted. I can’t confirm or deny that, but it sounds plausible.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that technology is evolving quickly. But what is questionable, from a grumpy old bugger’s perspective, is this: is it possible that the faster things change, the less interested we are in exploring how they work?

Planned obsolescence – the wet dream of manufacturers, software developers, and marketers – is it killing curiosity? Have the old computer nerds unwittingly ruined general technical geekery? I dunno. Maybe the Raspberry Pi thing will save us. What do you think?




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  1. See, this is so true!i feel like Victor Meldrew when I say things like that, now I know I’m not alone! This is how nhs hearing aids are fitted now, when we take my mum, they say the machine has programmed it so it must be fine,and she’s saying turn it up a bit!

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