Within circles of bird watchers there has been debates on field uses of smartphones and similar devices to create attractant noise. With eg. an iPhone you can easily playback the sounds of different bird species in order to lure birds out of their hiding places. Several bird watchers do not appreciate this use. Yesterday Sarah Portlock wrote in Wall Street Journal about recent debates.
As Christopher Vogel approached a hot spot for Louisiana waterthrushes in a New Jersey state forest one spring day, the professional ornithologist could hear the bird’s complex crescendo of “CHEE-CHEE-CHEE-titi-WEE.” But something didn’t seem quite right.
Then he spotted the trouble. The warble wasn’t coming from a bird. Rather, he said, a large man in full birding regalia—khaki field vest, floppy sun hat and expensive binoculars—was standing there on a bridge, his iPhone chirping away. It was loudly playing the bird’s song, seemingly on a loop, in an effort to lure the bird into view.
“He thought he was alone. He was being on the sly,” recalled Mr. Vogel, 41 years old. “And then somebody caught him.”
“I told him, ‘You know that’s exactly what you’re not supposed to be doing.’ ” Mr. Vogel then snapped a photo of the man and threatened to post it online for public shaming. The birder blanched, said nothing, went back to his car and left.
I’m not a bird watcher, and don’t have any specific idea on where to draw the line between appropriate and non-appropriate technology use in this context. But I feel tempted to relate the debates and controversies about smartphones and bird watching to a concept I introduced in the text “” last year. In the text I discussed how recent debates on Instagram aesthetics could be related to earlier controversies around imaging technologies like the Claude Glass. The concept I used to try to understand the debates and often strong feelings around technology use was “borrowed features”. The concept has to do with normative aesthetics and the negotiations on uses of new technologies.I’m not a bird watcher, and don’t have any specific idea on where to draw the line between appropriate and non-appropriate technology use in this context. But I feel tempted to relate the debates and controversies about smartphones and bird watching to a concept I introduced in the text “Enhancement or Distortion? From The Claude Glass to Instagram” last year. In the text I discussed how recent debates on Instagram aesthetics could be related to earlier controversies around imaging technologies like the Claude Glass. The concept I used to try to understand the debates and often strong feelings around technology use was “borrowed features”. The concept has to do with normative aesthetics and the negotiations on uses of new technologies.
Here’s a part from the text, in which I described how disdain and strong feelings around technology use could be interpreted as: …a historically recurring theme of what could be called normative aesthetics. It is part of a defense of craftsmanship and ideas about professionalism. It is part and parcel of the social dynamics that occur when new technologies are introduced in various practices. When electric, then electronic and digital music instruments were introduced there were reactions against the loss of musical craftsmanship. Some writers still prefer mechanical typewriters, arguing that computer-based writing is numbing and dumbing. The same goes for imaging technologies. (…) But there is more to the story.
New tools encourage and strengthen some practices. New technologies are to some extent often prosthetic (McLuhan 1995). They offer new possibilities, they might enhance the abilities of the user, while they are also numbing or blocking some capacities. (…) This shift of knowledge (and skill) can be challenging.
There is a moral undercurrent that seems to run along much of the critique against uses of various technologies. The undercurrent is best illustrated by the fable about ”the bird in borrowed feathers”, in which a bird (sometimes a crow or a jay) borrows finery from another species in order to impress. The beautiful bird is however revealed to be ”fake” and the borrowed (and sometimes its own) feathers are torn off. This moral stance seems to spur critics when they disdain uses of new technologies as ”cheap gains” or as reliance on tools without having any real skill. I feel tempted to slightly tweak the fable to being about borrowed features.
It feels appropriate to use the notion of borrowed features/feathers when it comes to electronic imitation of bird song. And when Jeffrey Gordon (president of the American Birding Association) speak about thoughtless playback of sound out in the field , borrowed features/feathers comes to mind .
“I find it so boorish when people are just out here, indiscriminately blasting stuff,” said Mr. Gordon, who uses an app, but says he does so judiciously. “When we’re getting out, we’re trying to become more attentive to what’s around us, and playback—or any kind of overreliance on gadgetry—can quickly start to erode the experience.” Technology use in settings associated with wildlife and nature is a truly thought provoking topic.