The solution to the greatest paradoxes of the twentieth century physics is the realization that the observer cannot be separated from the experimental design.
- General Relativity? The observer can’t tell the difference between gravity and an accelerating reference frame.
- Maxwell’s Demon? Even the observer’s computation cannot be separated from the physical system that implements it.
- Quantum Mechanics? Observation collapses probabilistic wave-functions.
There is a simple irony in the above.
A 21st century paradox, shared among my friends and with constant teasing, is how someone like me could both emphatically claim and successfully test as a heavy introvert.
The solution to this slightly less prestigious paradox is: I carry a camera.
Like quantum mechanics, my data collection device changes the experimental design.
[How a camera collapses the social wave function after the jump]
Cute girls: Observing the observer’s observations
At Spontaneous Drinking Night in SF (which due to a weird cross-referencing blog fart, I’ll have to write about next), we were looking at why I was late (again) to the party: I was processing photos from the Reddit party.
Cindy asked, “Geez, what did you do? Go around taking photos of all the cute girls?”
My answer was, “Yes.”
The real answer is best described as a favorite social networking relationship status:
Increasing readership: The observations that were observed
The original title of this article was “Collapsing the social wave-function,” but I replaced the word in order to get you to read this far on the off chance you thought I had some piece of wisdom of womanhood for you to mock.
But in case you were wondering, here was what Cindy was referring to:
Cindy asks, “A blatant attempt to get people to read your blog?”
I answer, “Yes.”
Being complicated: The observer
I was planning on hiding out the entire week and collecting enough energy for my social batteries for Saturday—my doctor sounded a little concerned that three and a half months of straight coughing was unusual. (If someone wants to research the illness that happens when you stick an introvert in social situations all summer, I can tell you the symptoms: three and a half months straight of coughing and the inability to sleep more than six hours at a time.)
But Andrei IM’d me to stop working and head South of Market for the Reddit party. By the time I got there (late) it was so packed that it took thirty minutes to get through to the end of the tiny bar and back looking for the few people I knew. I’ll admit I had a little bit of fun trying to get these few people into ValleyWag so I could tease them about it the next day—a game I had just made up because of an incidental, erroneous, and thoroughly enjoyable ’wag-slam that day. But then, idleness set in.
Most people would fill this idleness with alcohol.
I fill it with photography and alcohol.
Here are some snippets of my internal dialog:
My last photograph of her was crummy, I better try to take another one.
I bet the lighting would have been better at that French Embasssy party going on right now. I wonder if the women would be hotter too?
Hey, what are you doing here? Aren’t you French…and hot?
Hey, don’t take a photograph of me. I’m a photographer, see! We’re part of the same club! Let me introduce you to hot-French-woman instead.
Hey, I wonder if I can capture how crowded this bar is!
I agree! Nerds are cool.
Did I just tell her that nerds taste good, too? She might take that the wrong way. Better grab the nearest person and introduce them so what I said doesn’t register.
Rest up. Lend camera to friends. Finish the Chimay.
Must find someone from Reddit to thank them for the free beer.
Hmm, it’s opening up. More room to photograph.
I recognize you, but I forgot your name. Let me take your picture to stall some more and maybe it’ll come to me.
I wish I was that girl hiding in the corner. But then I’d lose the ability to pee standing up.
Shit. She saw me. I better introduce myself so it doesn’t look as totally creepy as it does.
I’m not using a large camera and a flash and people still notice me taking photographs. That was $5000 totally wasted. I should have funded a Y! Combinator instead.
If you integrate that dialog, you get the solution to the paradox of how an introvert can seem the social extrovert.
How it started: It’s because of Google-boy
Then one day, long ago, Mark wasn’t going to be there. I had better take some photos.
One “decisive moment,” as I was collapsing a female wave-function with my camera for an utterly unremarkable photograph, Google-Boy observes me observing her, “You’ll never meet any girls taking photos. Guys think that’ll work but it never does.”
I wasn’t sure which part of the statement offended me more: the implication that I do photography to meet women, or the harsh observation about the psyche of geeky guys. At that moment, I just sort of shrugged at him.
Then later, in order to stand up for lonely, introverted, camera-wielding nerds everywhere, I went back to the photographic subject, did some pathetic flirting, and scored her e-mail.1 She turned out to be an okay person.
Google-Boy, on the other hand, I don’t remember.
The simple irony
They say it is a poor photographer that blames his equipment. But it does make for a brilliant dodge in social settings.
(Thanks to all the people on the other end of my camera, for being such good sports.)