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February 9, 2013 • Editorials, Outdoors

Smartphone Cameras Change Everything: Winter Storm Nemo vs Blizzard of ’78

Blizzard Smartphone Camera Image

A blizzard of ’78 picture at my house evokes memories; would one of an endless stream of Smartphone Camera pictures do the same?

This week marked the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78, and as a result we have seen some of the iconic images from that storm on web sites and social media. I have a few pictures that I’ll share here. The other day it was snowing – pretty snow floating to the ground and coating everything. I snapped a picture with my smartphone camera that went to our photo stream, and my wife saw it and remarked that it was a pretty shot … and that is likely the only attention it will ever get. And as snow started falling from Winter Storm Nemo, I saw more smartphone camera pictures from friends on Facebook before noon than I have EVER seen from the Blizzard of ’78. But will any of them be remembered past this weekend?

It made me think that as pictures have become easier to take and storage and sharing effortless, they have become transient, losing their permanence and value.

At least that is how it seems. Looking at the image at the top, that is my family home during the Blizzard of 1978 in Massachusetts. It was taken from the street a couple of days after the storm; several years ago I digitized all of my parents’ slides from the early 60s to the early 80s, and I made a DVD for everyone in the family with all of the pictures and a slideshow.

For anyone who lived in New England, the Blizzard of ’78 was an event on the scale of the San Francisco earthquake, the Chicago fire, or other major disasters. Over at WickedLocal they have reprinted an original article on the storm, and here are a few things I collected up when I did a recollection on a personal blog on the 25th anniversary:

  • More than 4 feet of snow.
  • 100 MPH winds.
  • High tides cresting 40 foot waves.
  • Dozens of homes and businesses wiped out instantly, hundreds badly damaged.
  • 100 people dead due to every imaginable weather related cause.

I was 12 when that storm hit. I was old enough to shovel snow for several people in the neighborhood to help out, and I was old enough to be terrified watching the news showing the parking lot route 128 had become and waiting for my dad to make it home.

But I was young enough to enjoy the fact that we had a week off from school and that the roads were shut down. I was young enough not to worry about being without power or phones for a while; I was young enough that the recently totaled ’64 Impala kept on the side of our garage became our snow fort that day and for the rest of the winter.

There are only a few pictures we have from the blizzard, and as you can see they were taken when the sun was out and the roof was almost clear – in other words a day or two later. The one at the top shows our house from the street. Since it was already more than 24 hours later, the snow has compacted, but everything was completely closed and snowed in. In order there is my Dad, my older brother (would have been ~14.5) and me (almost 12). The covered car was a ’74 Chevy Impala …

Blizzard Smartphone Camera Image

In this one you can see a bit up the street, showing that even by the 8th, two days after the storm, roads weren’t plowed. The ‘highway’ down the street opened that day, and the convenience store (Bob’s) opened up as well. We would take a sled down the street to get stuff, and run errands for people who couldn’t get out of their houses yet.

AndersonmMar78_04_b

OK, this isn’t the Blizzard, but me after Christmas just before … note the M16-look alike (had forgotten that!) and my fave gift from that year – VertiBird! It was a helicopter that flew in circles … I remember that the first one I got didn’t work, and my dad called all around (hot gift that year), and that Child World in Framingham said they had one and would hold it for him. We got there, and of course they didn’t have any … my Dad was *furious*! Upon yelling at the manager, they ‘found’ one held for someone else and I got it! The VertiBird sat in my parents house for years after I had moved out, and I reclaimed it before they moved south several years ago. Unfortunately, while I kept it, my attempts to rewire and get it working for my kids were to no avail … it was just dead. But I digress.

Weather Channel

For ‘Winter Storm Nemo’, the forecasting technology has advanced tremendously to the point that the Weather Channel now has a ‘storm-con’ that talks about the confidence of a major storm hitting. It worked very well for Hurricane Sandy, and while the totals haven’t exactly matched forecasts, the general forecast of conditions made sure everyone was able to see what was coming … so that the only people getting trapped on highways were those foolish enough to go driving when there was a driving ban in effect.

But as I said, there have been countless smartphone camera images and videos showing the snow. Some are fun and cute pictures of kids playing outside in the snow, others are of the roads or trees or some other indication of what is going on. Like I said, the hundreds of images I have seen are largely instantly forgettable … and then there are videos like this 8 minute wonder of a person in Western Massachusetts walking to the local 7-11. Enjoy!

Do you feel that with the ease of taking and posting smartphone camera pictures everywhere, that the images themselves lose permanence and meaning? Do you think people miss out on actually experiencing things by being so busy documenting stuff?

4 Responses to " Smartphone Cameras Change Everything: Winter Storm Nemo vs Blizzard of ’78 "

  1. Bryan Eley says:

    Neat story, Mike. We got a huge amount of snow dumped on us in Illinois back then too. I remember the Vertibird…reminds me of the Marx Barnstormer game we had back then. I scored on Christmas in 1978…my Milton-Bradley StarBird that I still have. In fact I also have an unassembled one in mint condition.

    I think you are right regarding the surfeit of visual information and the desire to record. I wonder if there’s an unconscious desire in some to get the next viral video and the (hopefully for them) 15 minutes of fame. Taking a photo to record as a data point an event is one thing, but it almost seems like there’s too much of a desire to promote vicarious living, for all the world like that Star Trek episode “The Menagarie” where the Talosians spend their lives reliving the memories of others rather than experiencing and creating their own. All this information might be a trove of data for future researchers, but in the here and now is there too much observation and not enough engagement? If you observe a traffic accident occur are you more likely to whip out the camera and film or rush to the aid of the victims?

    Regarding our toys of that era: look how many were designed around the premise that you create the environment, the virtual world, whereas with many more toys and games today kids seem more participants rather than creators, passive play instead of active play. Hm, I suppose I’m starting to sound like Grandpa Simpson. 😉

    • Very true, all of it.

      As for your assessment of toys, think about LEGO from our era. The shelves were divided by how many bits were included, and potentially by the size distribution. NOT by the pre-determined stuff you built. I loved it when my kids just started dumping everything into the huge LEGO bucket we had (still have) – then it gets back to being creative play.

  2. gorkon says:

    I like the social network posts as some of them are real. Occasionally they aren’t though and that’s the problem. For example, the pics I posted about on Sandy. A lot of the ones you saw on the web were ones that movie makers created or from other disasters. That gives me a goal for the next time I get something that hits our area…..when I go to take pictures to share I want to make sure I find something identifiable. A house looks like a house and thus it’s hard to prove that it came from a certain storm. So I will head out and find something like a firestation or a sign identifying the location. That, in a way, would be an experience in and of itself. I would also link to the coordinates of the picture as I usually take geolocated pics on my phone, Something…anything…to mark and prove where it happened, and when. At least for the pics I really care about.

    • I love seeing social media stuff as well. Since I have so many Facebook friends from suburban Boston where I grew up and north-central Mass where we lived for many years, I have enjoyed them sharing stories and pictures. The other stuff, as you say, is pretty lousy.

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