Fifteen years ago I held my breath as The Family Camera was placed into my trembling hands. With glee, I pondered what magnificent art I would create through the viewfinder of this magical device. What memories, what events, what thrills would I document with this technology that made time stand still?
At the day’s end, my mom showed me how to wind the film, remove it from the camera, and then fill out the necessary documents at the store to get it developed. One week later, after my mom paid the $20 for colored, glossy duplicates, I was severely scolded for “wasting” all 27 exposures photographing cars in the parking lot. (Classic case of the misunderstood artist.)
Juxtapose that scenario with one from earlier this month: a conceptual scavenger hunt where teams of four were given words such as “infinity” and asked to snap a photo that represented the word using their smart phone, then text the image to the judges. I could hear my inner child contesting, ‘not only is the picture instant but it’s also free and can be sent without a stamp?! Ho-lee shit.’
Despite dramatic advances in technology, an innate urge to challenge ourselves without modern convenience drives us forward. Ironically, it’s probably this very urge to scrap what we know and “re-invent the wheel” that drives so much innovation. Yesterday’s abacus is today’s calculator is tomorrow’s iPhone app.
The conceptual scavenger hunt was part of a larger, annual event held by a most hospitable family in southwestern Ohio. Satiating that primal urge to invent and create, the goal of Hope it Floats is to create a boat that will carry you and your three teammates across the cove and back. Key rules include: teams may only spend $50 on materials but teams may bring as much scrap materials as they would like; boats may not be built out of any materials originally intended as flotation devices; boats may not be built out of any materials that would cause harm to the cove’s magnificence (i.e. Styrofoam); teams may not use hands, arms, or legs to propel themselves over and back.
And so our team, the Oakland Apathetics, took up the challenge. We arrived Saturday morning to join in the precompetitions, which afford teams the chance of winning extra materials, a head start, a bag of sand to weigh down another team, etc. After coming in second place in the ping-pong tournament, home run derby, and conceptual scavenger hunt, we secured ourselves an oar and got to building. After four hours of sweat and swears, we stepped back to observe.
We had reinvented the wheel by making a box. Kind of a let down really. But as we gingerly placed the U.S.S. Sack Up on the glistening water her PVC-frame held fast, her double tarps were strong, and her pegboard bottom held over 300 pounds as each one of us climbed aboard.
This is not a story of victory, my friends. We did not win. We did not even come close; as we crossed the finish line (the last vessel in our heat) the pegboard bottom snapped and we capsized, confirming that if innovation was up to us, we’d still be waiting a week for film to develop.
But in our failure we found victory. For one day we forgot about our ability to navigate using the GPS-directions read by the voice of an iPhone, to listen to music stored hundreds of miles away on a net storage device, to film the intensity of nine teams racing homemade boats on a digital camera.
We forgot about technology and found creativity in our minds and spirits, collaboration among our fellow humans, and confidence that if ever we were stranded on an island we could rely upon our hands and minds to build a boat to safety. (Provided, of course, that we had ample amounts of PVC, PVC-bonding glue, PVC-cutters, rope, scissors, two waterproof tarps, peg board, a 5-gallon gasoline canister, a 5-gallon paint bucket, and an unlimited supply of duct tape.)
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