mardi 12 avril 2011

It still exists, even if it isn’t on Facebook.

One of my (many) pet hates in life, is going to a gig and being surrounded by people who are watching the entire performance through the click-click stop-motion screen of a camera phone.  (Obviously, the professional photographers at the front are exempt from this!)

As well as it being highly distracting for those just quietly trying to be in the moment and enjoy the show, I often wonder what people actually do with these multiple, often near-identical, digital images.  I doubt they are going to print them out and hang them on the wall, so presumably they will just sit there in the memory of the whizzy electronic device from whence they came, gathering dust until they are eventually deleted.  I mean, what else is someone going to do with 500 poor-quality long-distance photos of PJ Harvey?  (Obviously I’m a Luddite, so please do correct me if there is in fact some amazing use for all of these collections of bits and bytes and whatnot.)

The most depressing thing about it, is that whenever anyone does anything awesome, it now always seems to be with at least half an eye to bragging about it later.  Putting the pictures on Facebook and telling everyone you went to see PJ Harvey, rather than enjoying it while you are there.  It’s like thinking to yourself “ooh, this is fun – I can’t wait to do it again soon” – while you’re actually doing it.

A year or two ago, at ATP’s tenth anniversary festival, I was among the fairly sparse crowd who were hanging on to every word and chord from the divine Josh T. Pearson.  It was lovely, because there were few enough of us (I think that the Mars Volta or some other more popular band were playing on the other stage downstairs) that the audience was arranged in a semi-circle about two-to-three people deep, at the foot of the very small stage.  Cosy and intimate – perfect for such a performance.  Then, a couple came in – standard-issue hipster indie kids of a certain age, just like basically everyone at the entire festival – who pushed their way to the front, took a barrage of camera-phone photographs of themselves watching Josh T. Pearson for all of 30 seconds, before just as swiftly leaving.

That’s an extreme version of so many things that have become the norm – my younger friends who seem to spend all of Monday tagging photos of the weekend and ‘lol’-ing about the kerazy things they got up to, just so that the world knows they had fun; my friends who were kind of forced to join the dreaded Facebook after their wedding, when they realised that all of their guests except them were on the interwebs sharing photos and stories of the big day with everyone except for the happy couple themselves.

I know I’m guilty of it myself, in small ways.  Something funny will happen and, almost as a reflex action, I start mentally trying to repeat the story in hilarious fashion – in 140 characters or less.  (Although I maintain that Twitter is the superior form of social networking: Laura Marling recently and sniffily said that there was nothing ‘elegant’ about Twitter, but I think the exact opposite is true – there is something very elegant about people trying to form an interesting or amusing sentence with such limited space in which to do so.  I am fully aware at what a hypocrite I am – defending the ‘elegance’ of Twitter whilst slating the insidious Facebook culture that is blighting my enjoyment of live music events – it’s what makes me so fascinating, OK?!  Ahem.)

So, last weekend I was having a big spring clean – unfortunately, this is occasionally necessary, as I am an incorrigible hoarder who lives in a teeny-tiny flat.  I decided for once to be ruthless, to throw away all the rubbish that is cluttering up my life for no good reason.

This was when I realised that all of my views were wrong(ish), and my ‘Facebook has made us all think that things only exist if there is public evidence for them’ argument is not a new thing at all.  It pre-dates all of that.

In boxes, underneath my bed and the sofa and in that weird dusty cupboard where the water meter is, alongside the notebooks and the photographs, there was just loads of…crap.  Crap that I’d saved up in order to prove that I’d done cool stuff, basically.

There seemed to be dozens of menus from Parisian restaurants, collected over the years and now curling at the corners; gig tickets now faded to near-illegibility; flyers that I’d been handed in the street in New York, for events that I had never actually been to but sounded cool; even train and aeroplane tickets for journeys that were presumably important at the time, but I now had to wrack my brains to remember how they married up to the holidays and day-trips I must have wanted to remember.

I told myself that none of it mattered.   In years to come, I would remember that time I went to see Lady Gaga, even without the ticket to prove it.  I wouldn’t forget that I had ever been to Paris or New York, just because I no longer had all those menus for places I dimly remembered.  Even without all the proof, those memories still existed – in fact, the very best ones didn’t need any proof at all.

So, aside from a few photos and things that I really couldn’t bear to part with – the daily Chartier menu with Jimmy’s birthday printed at the top, the compliment slip from the Hotel Chelsea with my room number preserved for posterity – I threw it all away.  Three bin-bags full – that must be the equivalent of a whole camera-phone memory card.  I highly recommend it.

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