In praise of…

—Binoculars

Claire and I have recently returned from a week on the North Norfolk coast. We were staying in a restored fisherman’s shack halfway up a hill that overlooked the Salthouse marshes and beach. Like many people who go on holiday nowadays, we took many electrical gadgets with their associated chargers.

Despite the digital devices that shackle us to power supplies that we insist on taking with us everywhere, one of the greatest joys of the holiday was watching ships and the Sheringham Shoal wind farm through our binoculars. We bought these on the recommendation of a twitcher colleague. We wanted something reliable, comfortable, and good value for money—we didn’t want to spend mega money on a pair that were more than what we needed. We bought them several years ago, somewhere in the region of £60–70, from Cley Spy on one of our many trips up the Norfolk coast. To some this may seem like a lot of money, but they were some of the cheapest in the shop. Having only used cheap binoculars previously, I can assure you that it is worth spending that little bit more. When not holidaying, they generally live in our car, only coming out on odd occasions. But as Claire and I usually insist on holidays that involve views, they are usually a permanent fixture when away from home.

One of the things that these binoculars made me contemplate while we were away, was how I have got so used to looking at things on screens, and rapidly accepted that I need to charge my daily digital accoutrements to the extent that I have to take plugs and leads with me where ever I go. Yet while the images that appear projected onto the double ‘screens’ through these Helios Field Binoculars are crystal clear, they don’t need plugging in; no power is involved, there are no batteries to recharge, and I don’t need to turn them on. Strangely, and momentarily, I found myself surprised by this, as if I had made an observation, (no pun intended), that I hadn’t considered before.

That these thoughts should strike me is an indication of how my mind has subconsciously linked the phenomena of seeing imagery on a screen with my use of electronic media. Obviously binoculars aren’t a screen—you look through a lens—but never the less, there is a double illusion going on here. Firstly, the trick on the eye/mind in bringing things closer to view. Secondly, that my mind is reading these images as being immediately in front of my eyes on the glass discs encased in metal, rubber, and plastic. Through recent lifestyle decisions of always having screens with me on the go, be that a digital camera or iPhone, my brain has, without questioning, accepted this as a way of seeing imagery. To some extent, it could be argued, that I am no longer seeing this imagery on the screen, I am now merely looking at it.

To add an irony to this tale, I have just considered that these thoughts struck me while watching the gentle beauty of an offshore wind farm, built because of our insatiable demand for electricity due to our growing habit for digital/electronic gadgetry. And in light of all this far distance navel gazing, I have a renewed wonder for my pair of humble binoculars.

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