“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away.”
For my thesis I am working on a collection of short stories and poems that are semi-autobiographical along the lines of Sandra Cisneros’ The House of Mango Street. Tying all the works together is the underlying theme that all the experiences I am writing about are completely lacking any influence by social media or smart phone technology. Most are stories from when I was younger, but all of them are about living life to the fullest and being fully connected to friends, family and life as opposed to the disconnect that results from constantly checking your phone for emails, Facebook notifications or tweets. Those of you who know me know that I am just as guilty of this as the next person, I can hardly go more than 15 or 20 minutes without checking my phone, so it’s been fascinating trying to look at life through this lens, noticing the differences in life back then, before the existence of smart phones, and life now where everything can end up on the internet within minutes.
During the Pope selection process a few months ago the New York Daily News posted photographs comparing the crowd outside the Vatican with the crowd from 2005 and it was incredible to note the change – from an almost cell phone free photograph, to one in which nearly every person is holding up a phone or tablet to be able to record a moment in history. These two photographs document well how much things have changed in just seven years.
I couldn’t help thinking about these photographs and this change while I was at a concert with a good friend of mine this weekend. We had travelled to Philadelphia to see the New Kids on the Block, 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men perform (I make no apologies for my choice in music, I love these guys; blame it all on my early love for the Monkees, which is a story for another day). I’ve been to a lot of concerts in recent years, and I’ve come to rely on my cell phone for pictures just as much as my camera (if not more) without even thinking about it. But since I’ve been working on this thesis I’ve been finding these kinds of comparisons everywhere, so I couldn’t help looking around and noticing how many people were just using their phones instead of cameras to capture photographs and video from the concert. With the advent of apps such as Instagram and more recently Vine you can now instantly post those photos and video to several social media platforms and share them with the entire world while the concert is still happening.
I remember the old days (like, just 10 years ago) when you might call a friend from your cell phone, then hold it up so they could hear their favorite song playing. Now you can just film that song and send it to them in a text message. Also, with the advent of digital photography, you don’t even have to take any of your own photos if you don’t want to; all the fans sitting down much closer than you and getting much better pictures than you will likely be posting them online within the next few days and a simple Google image search will lead you right to them. You can just sit back and enjoy the concert from the nosebleed section, knowing tomorrow you’ll be able to download some really great pictures of Nick Lachey and Donnie Wahlberg that are much better than any you could have taken. Even the bands themselves have photos posted to their Facebook pages less than 12 hours after the concert ends.
The advent of all this social media integration and the easy access has completely changed not only how we record concerts and other events, but how we experience the actual event itself. Suddenly, we’re not focusing our undivided attention on the performance in front of us, but listening to the band or artist as we type a caption to post with the photo or video, or text a friend about what the crazy drunk lady in front of us is doing (or just tweet about it, as I did Saturday night). I was in the process of composing a tweet about how the drunk woman in front of us nearly fell face-first into the row in front of her, when the crowd went crazy and I looked up to see Donnie kissing a lucky fan. These quick moments are things people are beginning to miss now that they are becoming cell-phone compulsive (and again, I am just as guilty as the next person, I can’t even sit through an hour of television without checking my phone). Sure, this is just one trivial moment among many, but how many of life’s other moments are we missing now that we spend so much time on a cell phone, instead of looking up at the world around us? That’s a question I’ve asked in my thesis, and one I’ve been asking myself a lot in the past month since I started writing.
Just looking back at how much the concert experience (and life) has changed in the last 10 years makes me wonder how much it might change in the next 10. Was that Tupac hologram at Coachella last year just a foreshadowing of what is to come in the future? Will we someday be paying high ticket prices to see not a live band performing, but instead holograms of artists like Tupac, Kurt Cobain, or older favorites such as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley or the Beatles with John and George? And how will these performances be recorded by fans? Will we still be using our phones or will something be replacing those the same way phones replaced cameras; perhaps devices like as Google Glass or will that have already been made obsolete by contact lenses (which were science fiction just a few years ago when Torchwood made use of them)? If we’re already missing out on many of life’s great moments due to a phone or other device that’s kept in our pockets, how much more will we be missing out on in the future if that device was something we have constant access to, such as a pair of glasses or contact lenses?