It would be possible for some people to complain that life nowadays is too commercialized, overeffused and super-suffused with sales promotion and persuasion, although you'd never read such reports in a trade newspaper for retailers.
But retailers are people, too, or a high percentage sampled say they are, as much affected by the ozone and the balance of trade and the thoughts of political leaders as anyone. So if anyone would, maybe they could get a little bleary and shell-shocked by American popular culture, too, where, say, rhetorically speaking, the gross national product is determined by hype and blather.
And there on the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show, the fortieth one early in January, where monuments and temples to the electronic lifestyle stood dazzlingly for their appointed five days, suffusing and effusing hype and blather with intensity by design, it was easier to feel good about being a photography retailer than maybe other kinds of retailers.
Spread out across the LVCC's Central Hall, and throughout another half-dozen venues all over Las Vegas, in the grandest pyrotechnics that electrical images can ignite, thousands of reasons flashed by why it's better and better for people to live the electronic lifestyle in the confines of their own homes.
Who'd want to leave, with entertainment centers like these? There's something about hi-def video that makes you feel weird, especially lifesize. It's so sharp, so snappy, so ultra-hyper-super-real—and try to take your eyes off it. If a screen a yard wide was once overpowering, what would a fifty-incher do?
And say now, look, there are no wires to trip over: place 'n' play. The citizen of the digital lifestyle has gone Wi-Fi, and among his appliances is a thing called a router. If his dad had a thing called a router, it would have meant dad did woodworking.
But why work at all, when Joe 'n' Jane Sofa can sit and press buttons for distraction-to-order? They take their pick from satellite TV and video games and DVD movies. Those are just starters, but there's a day's worth of each every day. Besides, look at the game! No seat in the stadium gives you such close-ups. It's like standing beside them. It's like being among them. Who wants to be anywhere else but here? Why lead your own life, when you can lead theirs?
Fresh from the Garden
Besides all the canned goods from cartridges and from orbit, the homemade can be served up on the home-theater screen as well. It has escaped no one's attention that besides shoveling things down peoples' throats, the wireless entertainment center receives almost anything its masters shove into it.
That is, the same hi-def screen that shows in ever-greater detail some chap with broad shoulders and tight pants running along with helmet on his head, a pigskin under his arm, or what Jack Bauer is doing in the 11th hour of his 24, or what Judge Judy really looks like pore by pore and follicle by follicle, that very screen can also show the pictures you take and the movies you shoot with your own cameras. Congratulations—you are that 21st-century everyman, a Content Provider.
That's the exploratory side of the home theater, the adventurous side, the personal side, and ultimately, the truly meaningful side. Since the dawn of photography, the family album has been among the top treasures of every household, the first to be rescued in case of fire. Nothing about this changes in the digital era, except the things that the albums are made of.
It's nice to be able to help folks be successful at something that's as important to them as taking pictures. And that's what the photo retailer does.
Revenge of the Screen
One of the items the photo retailer has sold, since the dawn of time, has been photographic prints. As many of them as possible. There was a hiatus, though, at the dawn of digital, when minilab systems that could access digital picture media were uncommon indeed. "How do we get prints?" asked the customers. With your home printer, answered Epson and HP and Kodak and Lexmark and Canon and Sony and Panasonic and Olympus and anyone else who had a voice and a few patents to their name.
While there was, and is, a lot to be said for a personal printer, its ownership was a different paradigm than what customers were used to. What they were used to was dropping off the film at some convenient spot, returning a specified time later, and picking up a fistful of pictures. Watching your home printer eke out prints at a minute apiece might be fun, if your tastes ran that way, but it was still different than what customers were used to.
That's all changed, of course, with minilab services bountiful now for digital pictures. Along comes the home theater, and another old-fashioned way of reproducing pictures is suddenly reborn.