Is a video on your iPad equal to or greater than a memory? I would argue no, but I might be in the minority.
Attend any concert and you’ll see an array of small LCD screens from smartphones sprinkled throughout the crowd. Show-goers capture moments from their favorite bands playing their favorite songs to relive them — in the comfort of their home or with hundreds of friends on the Internet — well into the future.
It’s nothing new; we’ve come to expect it. But should we encourage documentation instead of digestion?
During President Barack Obama’s visit to CSU on Tuesday the scene wasn’t far from a U2 show at Red Rocks Amphitheater. iPads, iPhones, various Android devices and all makes of cameras were heavily represented in the crowd of 13,000. And thanks to the use of these technologies, no one bothered to listen to what the president was actually saying.
There’s an argument to be made for documentation: events only become history if there’s a record. But our culture’s obsession with preserving moments has encroached on the moments themselves, distilling the importance of a high school prom, wedding, tragedy and, yes, presidential visit to nothing more than another video clip — a clip in the same style we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on our nightly and 24-hour newscasts.
Capturing video or photos at an event is the easiest and most immediate form of saying, “I was there.” It’s the quickest way to show friends and family that you saw the president, but what happens when someone asks for an interpretation of his speech?
Without context, a photo becomes little more than a baseless memento.
It’s easy to blame this attitude on the immediacy of television and film, but what’s really at work is our inability to distinguish the real from the reported; we’ve come to accept the TV screen’s engagement of our auditory and visual senses as a be all end all.
But go to a concert, parade, speech or convention and it becomes obvious that there’s more at work. Our senses of touch, smell and, to some degree, taste work together with sight and hearing to give us a complete picture of what we are experiencing.
To ignore those additional senses and to focus instead on framing the scene through the small screen of our phones only diminishes reality.
I’ve heard many attendees of Obama’s speech (of which I admit I was not one) say that they don’t remember what he discussed — that what they remember is taking pictures on their phones, tweeting out interesting facts such as “It’s really hot” or participating in live blogs of the event.
These same attendees have since gone back and re-watched the speech to find out what they missed. What they will never recover, though, is the change in the event’s atmosphere when Obama discussed the CSU vs. CU football game or the change in reaction from simple excitement when Obama first appeared to rabid fandom when he walked off the stage.
So much is lost when the priorities of attending an event are switched from interpretation to documentation. And in my opinion, there are often professionals handling cameras much more skillfully than the amateur in the crowd, so why bother taking a grainy Instagram picture of the president when a handful of crisp, high-resolution slideshows will be on various news sites immediately following his exit?
It’s time we remember why it is we wait in line for hours and/or pay outrageous amounts of money to see our favorite performers (there’s something odd, yet telling, about labeling the president as a performer). We do it because we’re so familiar with them on our iPods, television and computer screens that the chance to experience them in person deepens the connection.