Ever since the earliest humans started recording their observations on the walls of caves, the images were spread out in a horizontal, or panoramic, fashion. Though we’ve come a long way in the thousands of years since, that, at least, remains the same – most of the time. We’re only now seeing the evidence thanks to the internet and smartphones, but the root of the selfie and the video recorded in portrait orientation grew out of cultural revolution of the late 60s. One of the greatest technological advancements in human history, and in our self-obsession, we’re using it all wrong.
The first images were individual animals, but later they depicted herds, sometimes being stalked by hunters armed with spears. These drawings might also include the sun, which probably indicated the hunts were done in daylight. The cave drawings recorded how humans saw things, and they still convey the message after 40,000 years.
Humans have two eyes, mounted apart from each other horizontally. This arrangement contributed to our survivability because we saw things in 3-D, which gave our brains information about approaching dangers, such as how fast this danger was traveling. We also have two ears, positioned on opposite sides of our head, so we can hear sounds stereophonically, contributing to our sense of approaching danger, and survivability. If our eyes were mounted one above the other, we might be better at detecting falling rocks from above, but not very good at identifying the danger from a charging animal or a human enemy from another tribe or clan.
Over the millennia, as humans became more sophisticated with artistic skills and colored paints and brushes, these tools were used to record observations and ideas in paintings that were primarily formatted horizontally. Individual portraits were created in a vertical format, but even some portraits might be spread out horizontally to include a rocking chair, a nude reclining on a sofa, or a man on a horse. This format provided more information about the person in the painting and was better appreciated by the brain behind our horizontally mounted eyes.
Then came photography and movies, originally in black and white and a square format. The fact that images could be recorded and shared and retained indefinitely was amazing. The picture was truly worth a thousand words. As technology advanced, photographs and movies became colored and the square format was stretched horizontally to provide an enhanced experience to our eyes and brain. Picture postcards became the common method of sharing vacation images with friends and relatives, legally established in a horizontal format of approximately 4” x 6”. In the 1950s, movie producers went wild with the development Cinemascope, Cinerama, and 3-D features, which enraptured all the human senses, especially when combined with stereophonic and multi-channel audio.
When television was invented, it was black and white with a round screen, later cropped to a 3 x 4 ratio rectangular image. It wasn’t until ten years ago that television broadcasters were required to adopt the 9 x 16 aspect ratio for a more pleasant and natural viewing experience.
Now we have the smartphone, equipped with extremely high-resolution cameras and in the hands and pockets of almost every human on earth, rich, poor, and even homeless. The latest aspect ratio for these phones is 9 x 18, providing the most pleasant viewing experience for photos as well as videos. Yet the intelligence of today’s humans is regressing, as most of them hold the phone in a vertical position when recording an image. That works well for tourists falling into the Grand Canyon while posing for the perfect shot. It doesn’t work so well for recording mass shootings at rock concerts, protest riots, or refinery fires. As a result, our mainstream news programs have to come up with filler for the sides of the 9 x 16 TV screen when showing a video from a vertically held smartphone camera.
It is obvious that human behavior has been permanently damaged by the self-esteem movement that began in the late 60s. We are given the most amazing technology developed in 100,000 years, and we hold it the wrong way due to a personal obsession of self. Imagine a caveman using the wheel as a necklace or the spear as an earring. When recording a video of a buffalo charging your nine-year-old daughter and tossing her into the air, please hold your smartphone horizontally.
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