My friend Jon, writing over at Beans from Merriville, posted earlier this week about his process of disconnecting from the world. (Don't be too startled by the photo at the top of Jon's post; the rest of the post is much less alarming.)
Recently this interview between Tao Lin on behalf of the Believer with author Ben Lever and they had this really interesting discussion about, among other things, the real and the virtual and the pros/cons of experiencing the world through both. About halfway through the interview Tao Lin comments that
"The idea of the virtual seems to apply to all domains of human experience, not just to novels and poems—the inevitable disappointment of the actual due to the awareness of a virtual."
In thinking about this interview and Jon's post, the way that people interact with live events or picturesque moments also popped into my head. I play bass in a local Christian rock band and so we get to be out playing on a fairly regular basis in front of groups of people and often with other bands. So I've had the opportunity to regularly hang out at a bunch of big and small music events over the past two years. Just in observation of these shows, there seems to be a disposition to want to record or capture what is happening live rather than experiencing it. It seems that our default reaction to an interesting, memorable or picturesque moment is whip out some sort of recording equipment, typically video+audio, to record that moment.
Granted there are very positive aspects to this capturing ability. The revolutions in the Middle East would not be as nearly accessible to the rest of the world if it were not for this possibility. Perhaps they would not have succeeded at all. Nor would an issue like the BART in San Francisco killing cell service in response to protests be as crucial a matter.
And often, in order to avoid missing that moment, individuals will record the entire show/event/what-have-you. What seems then to end up happening is that instead of watching the actual or authentic live event the observer watches the entire event played out through the tiny screen held inches away from their face. How does this affect our interactive experiences? How does this affect our memory? If we are so intent on capturing the world around us are we forgetting to interact with it? Hence why this Toyota commercial is both funny and sad.
Interestingly enough since I've started writing this post earlier this afternoon (Wednesday 8/23), NPR posted this article entitled Does the Internet Make You More-or Less-Connected. (I swear I wrote the above before I read the NPR article.) Coincidentally the lead image has a bunch of kids with phones with the caption "The new concert experience: Is that digital device an impediment or an enhancement to your life?" The author, Dave Pell describes being at an Arcade Fire concert behind a guy who was recording the concert and sums up nicely the current concert/show experience:
"...a guy in front of me held his camera phone towards the big screen that flanked the stage and hit the video record button. He stood like that for a long time, separated from a live concert by two screens. Maybe he gained some social benefit by sharing the video with a friend or a broader Internet audience. But the concert provided him an opportunity to lose himself in the music and the moment. He let a screen block that experience."
It's as though we each begin to create our own digital arcade, a structure of seemingly random events held together by the individual doing the recording. Are we going to get to a point when I ask how was the concert instead of describing it the queried individual will simply whip out their recording device and show the person asking the question. Since we're often not terribly good at explaining experiences through words anyway perhaps video is more effective.
Pictures have been credited with being worth far more words than they really are worth. Video is even worse. If we are afraid of being disconnected from our devices because we are afraid of losing our place in the constant stream of data, are we also afraid of disconnecting from recording everything because we have become distrustful of our own ability to recollect and recount?
Can we still lose ourselves?