global culture of postage-stamp dimensions

Cultural historians seek the dynamic element that defines an age or era. The Renaissance discovered perspective, a new vision of things that was influential in art and the appreciation of landscape. The so-called industrial revolution of the 19th century was structured on iron and steel.

The contemporary world hums with electricity, the motivating force behind miniaturization. Today, we see more, more quickly, more frequently than ever before as the transmission of information and knowledge is achieved electrically.

And miniaturization has enhanced our ability to see by means of myriad prosthetic devices, among which are cell phones equipped with cameras, endoscopic equipment allowing minimally invasive surgery, digital photography and dvd storage of images.

Imaging, both photographic mapping and preservation, has added a new dimension to our visualization of the world. GeoEye, now the largest commercial sky photographing enterprise in existence, uses its IKONOS satellite to map and remap the world in discrete segments, yet seen from hundreds of miles above the earth. For instance, GeoEye produced sharp photographs of the destruction of the twin towers in New York on 9/ll from a height of 423 miles.

All of this activity begs the question: as we see more do we know more?

Critics argue that we are bombarded with images and so overwhelmed by the daily experience that we no longer seriously examine what we see, but just glance at it all.

Others contend that we now have close to hand some of the world’s valuable visual resources to be seen at our convenience: art and library collections on the Web, architectural achievements and classic films projected on hand-held dvd players.

In a sense ours is largely a global culture of postage-stamp dimensions.

Ray Betts