The low-down on low brow

By Amy Shaunette

When it was time for me to make the literary transition from young adult fiction to real fiction, I was sad to say goodbye to the novels of my youth. And then a new trend reared its ugly head: the 21st century epistolary novel, a story told in e-mails and instant messages. As far as I was concerned, Internet jargon had no place in a novel. But as we near the end of the decade, it’s become clear that there’s no place the Internet doesn’t belong, no cultural product the Internet doesn’t touch. This is certainly the case with technology. The iPhone enables users to access the Internet anywhere, anytime; Wikipedia and Google are constantly at hand should one ever have a question. There are Internet-enabled cars and refrigerators and printers, even dog toys and cat feeders. The electronics industry is obsessed with ways to access the Internet. So what do we do with all that access?

A little market research and Samsung has come up with the answer. Apparently, when given Internet access, we take pictures of ourselves! In August, the electronics company unveiled the world’s first dual screen digital camera, a hot gift item this Christmas. With an LCD screen on the back and a smaller one on the front, the Samsung DualView is designed for self-portraits, which is Samsung’s main marketing point. Gone are the days of holding the camera out in front of you and your friends five times before you get everyone’s face in the frame. Need some photos for your Facebook profile pic? No problem.

Samsung launched a promotional tour last summer, sending a crew of hot, young, uniformed marketing reps to London, Paris, Rome, and Moscow. A video on the company’s Web site shows footage from dozens of photo shoots, all featuring young people taking pictures of themselves. The promotional team even got a bride and groom to use the camera, taking the do-it-yourself mentality to a new level-with the DualView, who needs professional photographers?

Technology Web sites warn that the camera produces a low-quality image. Wired.com advises “serious photographers” find a more “serious camera, while Cnet.com calls the DualView the ultimate point-and-shoot “for people who like to be in front of the camera more than they like being behind it.” Clearly, the DualView is not intended for creative purposes. Photography as an art form takes a backseat to the quest for the perfect profile picture.

As consumers, we’ve asked for the DualView. Social networking Web sites like MySpace and Facebook require users to create personal profiles, lists of one’s favorite things and activities. The profile picture is the icing on the cake, the star on the top of the Christmas tree. It completes the package. Current self-portraits are crucial for online dating, as shown in tech-savvy chick flicks that depict people agonizing over which photo to choose for their dating profile. In “Must Love Dogs,” Diane Lane uses an old high school graduation photo-if only she’d had a DualView! Even outside of social networking, photos are in demand-customer review Web sites like Yelp encourage users to upload their photo, which makes one wonder how a poster’s hotness factors into their credibility. In order to function in today’s online society, we need pictures of ourselves. And it wouldn’t hurt if they were good ones.

What’s shocking to me is that we need these self-portraits so badly that there’s a camera designed specifically for the self-authored snapshot. When touring Europe or celebrating a birthday at a bar, is it really that hard to ask a stranger to take a photo of you and your friends? Everyone, myself included, has a few embarrassing photos taken while looking into a mirror-the DualView is definitely useful. But I’d like to think that people have something better to do than take photos of themselves, and something better to spend $300 on than a camera that encourages this behavior.