Small is Not Beautiful by Ron Steinman

In 1973, E.F. Schumacher wrote, “Small is Beautiful,” subtitled, “Economics as if people mattered.” The book’s theme resonated with people because the concept made a good life seem possible in a world quickly running away with bigness. Yes, even then. In many ways his work defied traditional economics. The book had lines in it such as, “Man is small. Therefore small is beautiful.” Schumacher’s work attracted conservatives, libertarians and even tree huggers. Were E.F. Schumacher alive today I wonder what he would think about the recent move to downsize all visual media, not because small is beautiful, but in the hopes of attracting an audience only for the sake of making money.
This is about the movies of course from Hollywood and independent filmmakers. It is about the real world and the virtual world. It is about some of the people who any visual that moves for whatever device is current and fashionable. Movies only succeed for the bean counters when they make money. Art works in the world of media when the box office in whatever form responds to a visual story of the receipts are high. The goal of almost all movie making is to amortize and maximize. The goal is to make the most of money spent, effort put forth, and time in production from beginning to end and perhaps the hope for art instead of popular schlock. Lately in Hollywood and in TV, it seems the goal is to minimize, that is fit the product into the smallest possible frame to get the biggest possible audience and hopefully not to lose money along the way. Hand-held devices, whether smart phones or the new tablet computers, might some day cut into box office receipts in movie theaters.
But because the attitudes of younger consumers might be changing toward viewing moving images on hand-held devices– and I say that cautiously because all the results are not yet in – it does not mean it is how I want to view movies, TV shows, sports or even commercials. Sports scores work. The weather works. Stock market quotes work. Faces and subtle movement do not work, but I’ll come back to that in a moment. I grew up in an age before TV when the biggest changes in movies came with the development of cameras that Hollywood used to record and then project images on a wide screen. The old West came to life on the big screen, as did many epics and historical dramas. Everything on the screen had meaning from the deepest view in the center to the so-called peripheral images on the sides and in the corners. Coming from an era where almost all we had were black and white films with limited picture value, as the new techniques came before us, the fun then was to see much more in the theater than I and everyone else I knew could ever have dreamed possible.
Let me be perfectly clear, as a consumer of films, TV shows, sporting events, concerts of all sorts, seeing movement of any kind on a cell phone, a smart phone or new tablet
seriously limits my involvement, thus my enjoyment. On most small two or two and half inch screens, because the canvas is so tiny, I lose much of the detail. It is impossible to see everything captured by the camera, how the actors perform, and how the editor made the movie come together. This, then, is the loss of my vision of esthetics. Can I see the face, the lips, the eyes, even a possible tic and the emotion an actor brings to his or her part? Can I see the broad vistas that opened my young eyes to the excitement of places I saw for the first time — a desert, a mountain or a flowing river? Will I be able to observe the background of the movie; its depth, width and breadth, so I can better understand its context, its sense of place? Will I see the cornerback hit the quarterback and how each man reacts? What about seeing the ball striking the bat and flying over the wall for a homerun to win the game? All that and just about any detail you name is beyond what one’s eyes can take in on the small screen. Of course, the new pads are bigger and can provide more material for the pleasure of viewing. But not that much more. If anyone can tell me that all those details and more will be possible on the tiny screen that is part of my cell phone, I will give up my fight for more space. Somehow, I doubt anyone can do that, and then where am I and the enjoyment I seek from the surrounding visual world?


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