A Feature or a Bug?

You probably have some experience with automatic spell-checkers changing what you type (or what you dictate) in an email or text message. Those corrections often become the stuff of much humor and embarrassment. Some people turn off the spell-check option on their smartphone (yes, you can do that!) but others just grin and bear it. Or, as the spell checker might say, grim and bare it! So, do you see the spell-checker and its “help” as a bug or as a feature in your smartphone’s operating system? 

We can see the visual equivalent of an automatic spell-checker in how different digital cameras take and process photos. Look at these two photos:

Unedited photo of Ross Lake, North Cascades National Park, taken by DSLR.
Unedited photo of Ross Lake, North Cascades National Park, taken by iPhone 11 Pro.

The first photo came from a Canon SL2 digital single lens reflex; the second from an iPhone 11 Pro. Which photo do you prefer, and why? Regardless, image processing software built into the iPhone apparently enriches the colors and perhaps sharpens the focus, almost to the point of making the image look a bit artificial.

Market surveys suggest that consumers prefer the enriched colors of smartphone images, so the image processing must be a feature rather than a bug, at least in the eyes of those consumers. However, at what point does image processing start deceiving us about what we saw? Your eye and brain work together to see things, and no camera is quite as good as this system God designed. Which is why photos of memorable scenes (e.g., a colorful sunset or a beautiful flower) often do not turn out quite as well as what we saw. Or think we saw, since our brain and memory are part of the process.

Moving (but not very far) to another topic, the corporate news media and social media all do a certain amount of processing as they turn information into news stories. Sometimes the processing amounts to distortion, and sometimes it involves incomplete information or even suppression of entire news stories. This is like adjusting colors, correcting perceived distortions, cropping the photo, or even deleting the photo before anyone can see it. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, NPR, PBS, televised news networks, and all the rest each do it differently, and sometimes they explain their approach by pointing to the wishes of their customer base. Even the Associated Press, which serves as a major news feed for most of the corporate media, writes and reports from its own worldview and its associated biases. But what if you want unfiltered, unprocessed news? Raw data, so to speak, like a RAW image format (for serious photographers). Good luck finding that kind of information! You have no control over the reporting, but you can read between the lines, compare news sources, learn from different perspectives, assemble facts, and persist in seeking truth. Trust me; you can do it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s