I’ve worn glasses since I was four years old. I’ve watched TV from birth.
Some of my fondest memories come from getting up before the sunrise to watch the gradually improving sequence of cartoons that were broadcast from 5am onwards. The Tweenies, The Hoobs, Arthur. All watched from the carpet, 2 feet away from the screen.
Having older parents, I was late getting new technology. So, the first computer we had in the house was a square clunky Windows laptop my dad got given for remote work. I remember, on the days where he was out on a sales call and I was home sick from school, trying to find my way around the labyrinthine internet on a connection that was only fast enough to transmit emails at the speed of physical mail.
Our slow internet pushed me to offline (yet indoors) pursuits like trying to design the hardest level on Speedy Eggbert, or spending entire summers wrapped up in Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, and Metroid Prime, making dents in the carpet where I sat with my nose almost touching the TV.
Even as a child, I thought screens were strange things.
Lenses for one person to look in on countless others, real or not. A private way to enter the rest of the world and live there for as long as you want. Some grainy, some matte, some with dead pixels or distorted lines that cut off the bottom of the picture.
At age 6, it was the dusty, crackling, static lenses of CRT TVs that smelt faintly of sweet fluff and scorched plastic. Lenses of my glasses smeared with caramel at lunchtime. As a teenager, the sneeze-stained lens of my lime green Dell laptop that outlasted its life expectancy well before I accidentally broke it in the early hours of the morning. Now, it’s the finger-smudged lens of my phone in the morning, sitting up with a coffee in my dressing gown, reading tweets, yawning.
And, as I came to learn, the most important lenses aren’t the ones you physically see the digital world through, but the ones you’ve come to create yourself with what you choose to surround yourself with.
They’re the lenses you have forced on you by warring news sources, restrictive algorithms, alternative Twitter facts, people talking shit on podcasts, reality TV, your family’s opinions, your misconceptions, the blurred line between a trusted source and an unqualified liar twisting journalism into a marketing and propaganda tool.
Physical lenses have been perfected. Screens are crystal clear. Visual distortion isn’t commonplace, but, in this age, the invisible lenses with more sinister forms of distortion are more pervasive than ever before.