Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Say Scarcity on 3!

Recently, on a lovely family vacation, we were taking some marvelous pictures of ourselves looking rather dashing in the middle of lush scenery. This was going nicely (I and my siblings were rotating for individual shots, and then all six of us would pile in for some group-photo fun), until my mom realized that her battery ("That I just put in!") was dying.

The slow death of the camera introduced sudden scarcity into our happy memory-capturing time, and meant we now had to pose, pose, pose, quick-turn-on-the-camera-and-take-the-picture-and-turn-it-off-again, instead of the normal point-and-shoot routine. We had also reached the critical point, just before sunset, where photography gets really tricky, because you're shooting at a sunset that hasn't happened yet, but is still creating a backlight nightmare. So, instead of being able to take a million pictures, experiment with technique, and capture every tiny second of sun descent, we were rationing our clicks like it was 1995 and we had 12 pictures on our roll of film.

Luckily, my family has years of practice at this kind of stuff, so we're all smiling, with eyes open, backs straight, and hair not in our faces. Even still, my mom had to drive and buy a new camera battery, and there was a chance that we'd have to repeat the process. Luckily, digital cameras allow you to review all these things before the Walgreens photo lab prints out the results.

Economically speaking, this was interesting first from a technological perspective, in the sense that the digital camera has made high-quality photography a possibility for many more people. Not only are pictures more affordable when you don't have to print the ones you don't want (and when you can upload them to Facebook instead of printing and placing them in an album), but you can experiment with techniques without worrying about wasting film. If only I had had a digital camera as a four-year-old, I might not have taken so many pictures with unintentionally decapitated models.

More noticeable than the technological side, however, is the truly economic nature of our photoshoot. Everything was going along swimmingly, when scarcity came out like the boogeyman from under the bed. In economics, scarcity never goes away, we can only try to limit its harms by creating better products and allocating resources more appropriately.

Whether in the national economy, or in personal microeconomics, surprises are inevitable. We didn't anticipate a fresh battery suddenly running low, just like many didn't anticipate the housing market crash or the unexpected expense of having to replace the transmission. The unexpected is fairly routine in economics, because at its root, an economy is a conglomeration of the decisions that individuals make. Since individuals react to a variety of forces (emotions, environment, education, etc.), these decisions are notoriously difficult to predict. Economics has gotten a bad reputation as the "dead science," because of its poor forecasting ability, but in reality, it attempts to do what few other disciplines try. The goal of economics is to take pictures into the sun with a dying battery; to try to record and understand the decisions of individuals in constantly surprising circumstances.

I was ready for a close-up in:
Black and cream tribal patterned linen shorts, black sleeveless turtleneck sweater, black and silver hoop earrings, cream asymmetrical vintage-inspired necklace, black cocktail ring, and ... bare feet in the sand.