Could a new technology help clear up our community vision?
I need some help. I’ve got an idea for a new technology, and I need the right engineer to build a prototype. Pulse readers, you’re getting the first crack at it. Here’s the pitch.
You know the gear an optometrist puts in front of your face to figure out the precise specifications of the lenses you need to see the world clearly? It looks very high tech, but also just a little bit steampunk, like something from the movie Brazil.
It’s called a phoropter, but I think of it as a “lens machine” because the view keeps changing, like the time-lapse rise and fall of civilizations seen by the time traveler in the film version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
The optometrist changes the lens over one eye at a time or both, testing your response to the optical parameters of sample lenses until the view is clear. The final result is a set of unique specifications that will be used to create lenses that let you see clearly, day after day, no matter what you’re looking at.
I think we need a machine like this for seeing our fellow Chattanoogans.
I know prejudice always occurs in other people, not you, but think about how hard it is to understand for most people who’ve never lost a job because of being gay or been told with a straight face that marrying their same-sex partner is a threat to our way of life.
Or having a friend or family member shot to death by police in questionable circumstances and still having to argue about which lives matter. Or being unable to find a home because the rent is affordable for someone else’s income but not yours.
Or, turning to a different set of lenses, what if you build cool buildings with a real sense of place and some affordable rents and still get your chops busted for not making them so cheap you can’t afford to build them? Or see fundamental truths changing around you and don’t understand why drawing a line in the sand is controversial?
Here’s the tough part, engineers, and it’s a key design point for this device: the view through each lens needs to be more than visual. The view needs to include the felt sense, the emotional tone, of each of those views.
Why do we need a machine like this? Because the Chattanooga story needs to be more inclusive.
We love to tell our renaissance story. And it really is a great story. But the story of the renaissance that’s already happened needs to include much more than reclaiming downtown. And the rest of the renaissance that’s still to come needs to embrace more of our people.
It’s easy to argue that social issues happening everywhere—people in traditionally marginalized groups fighting for civil rights and physical safety, chronic homelessness and people living on the edge of homelessness, low performing schools, myopic school administrators that allow cultures of violence to fester, lower-income people being forced out of gentrifyiwng areas as rents and home prices increase, and many more—are not part of our “Chattanooga Story” because they aren’t unique, because they are part of national trends, because you’re telling one story and they are part of another story.
There’s always a because, and it’s never real. If you can see it in Chattanooga, it’s part of the Chattanooga story.
But here’s the other thing. Seeing some generally under-viewed aspect of the story doesn’t mean the common view is wrong, just that it’s incomplete.
I think the end game for this version of the lens machine—the service we’re selling if we can turn this into a successful business—is the idea that perspectives are not permanent and can be changed by choice as easily as you might change your frames when you want a different look or your lenses as your vision changes over time.
Okay, innovators, who can help me build this machine?
Rich Bailey is a professional writer, editor and (sometimes) PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic website in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com