21 January 2009

The Sea of Screens

I was just sent a link to a Gizmodo article written by Adam Frucci where he brought up the notion of "obsessive documentation." As the photo (taken by Kate Heffernan) clearly shows, we are obsessed with digital documentation. Adam closes his writing by stating, "And in the end, what will help you remember an experience better: taking a not-great picture that's 80% crowd, or giving that experience 100% of your attention? You can always find photos online later, but you'll never be able to go back to that moment again and, well, pay attention to it."

In some respects, I agree with Adam's point of view. We should be able to be more zen, be in the moment, experience the experience and all that goodness. On the other hand, I think that the only way the current 'digital generation' actually feels they have experienced something, is if they have a digital account of it. This premise is what makes microblogging sites so prominent. The amount of information that we consume on a daily basis is vast and abundant. I read so many articles every day that it becomes hard to remember what the messages of each piece was or where to find it again. And so, I twitter it, I forward it and create a digital log of it.

In the case of the Inaugural address or the Youth Ball, there is no chance I could forget attending something like that, with or without having a camera attached to my hand. It's a bit of a double-edged sword because taking pictures means we don't have to remember since we have the pictures, yet at the same time, taking a picture solidifies that we have the memory. We are currently living in an age where digital proof is just as important as actual experience. Even if I attended the Youth Ball with a group of friends, I would still want to take my own pictures despite the fact that all my friends would be doing the same. My camera, my pictures, my memories. There is a degree of identity that is embedded in each digital account. Even if the pictures are seemly all the same, as Adam points out, and there may be 100 photos on flickr that are technically better than the ones you took... you still took it. You were there, you saw, you snapped.

Adam reflects on when he saw Radiohead play live and everyone had their phones out. He says, "people are more interested in taking photos of something they're witnessing than actually, you know, witnessing it." And sure, that might be the case, I understand that he might feel he missed the show if he watched it through a 2x3 inch screen rather than just looking up. If I watched an entire Radiohead show like that, I would feel a bit cheated as well. I saw Radiohead play at Outsidelands in SF this past August, and took a photo of it with my phone. There is NO way anyone would have any idea what they are looking at by viewing the photo posted to above. Me on the other hand, I do. I remember everything about that night, taking that picture, getting trampled by thousands of people. I remember where I was, trying to heave myself out of a wild crowd while 'Talk Show Host' played. That entire night was significant to me. My digital accounts and microblogging from that night are equally important to me. Rather, they were shoddy attempts at microblogging seeing as how 60,000 people were tyring to text, call, twitter, etc. all at the same time which basically arrested the network.

So yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you Adam. We are obsessed with digital documentation. Frankly I wish the other 59,999 people at Outsidelands weren't as obsessed with digital documentation as I am so that my twitter updates would be sent directly after I pressed "send" and I wouldn't have to "miss the show" trying to find a signal.

No comments: