Isn’t it interesting that some of the best experiences are the ones we don’t record?
The first time I saw Justin Vernon of Bon Iver play an intimate show at the Ace Hotel, I sat in the third row behind a woman whose phone seemed permanently stuck to her face. She took a photo of Justin, posted it to every social media platform under the sun, hashtagged it #frontrow, and spent the remainder of the evening scrolling through pictures of her friends having “bath time with my babies!” and frantically refreshing her feed to see how many likes she was getting on a photo of a private Bon Iver concert she couldn’t possibly care less about.
Eventually, the lady whose glowing screen ruined both of our experiences received a comment from her bath-time-with-the-babies friend — a sarcastic “thanks for the invite…looks amazing” — and spent the remainder of the evening whispering about FOMO and how upset she was.
So much for an intimate evening at the Ace.
Our constant need to capture and share every waking hour of our lives is making us miss it entirely. Everyone wants to show everyone else what they’re doing. We want to say we’ve been there. We’ve done it. In the process, we miss being there. We miss doing it.
We share the present at its own expense, scrolling through comments about a moment we posted but missed as much as everyone responding with their woes on our feed.
For the past three years, I’ve taken Levi, my son Nolan and a friend of his choosing to Coachella Music Festival. I wonder what it’s like for the artists on stage to play for one hundred thousand phones? Levi knows more about that than I do, having toured full-time for the past ten years. I know it can feel gratifying to be the object of attention, but how strange must it be to perform for an audience who has paid for a “live experience” that is still watching you through a phone screen lifted in front of their faces, glancing down every ten seconds, deleting and frantically trying to catch the best segment of the best song that they’re entirely missing for some arbitrary Snapchat following?
Rolling Stone ran an article about musicians who are begging their audiences to put their phones away. Entire businesses are being constructed purely for the sake of safely storing people’s devices upon entry to an event where their phones are no longer permitted.
Do you know how much time people spend looking for an electrical outlet at music festivals? Do you know how many artists’ sets people miss so that they can get their battery level back up to ten percent and record some jealousy-inducing clip of the headliner’s show?
I have a growing affection for Childish Gambino. He headlined the opening night of last year’s festival and specifically asked the crowd to put their phones away. Then, when they didn’t, he exacerbated their narcissism. He got right down into the crowd and gave them an overabundance of everything they wanted more than what he had to offer. Donald Glover is a smart dude. His art is social commentary and frankly, I’m not convinced the crowd was smart enough to receive what he had to say. Sometimes the worst thing for us is to get what we ask for, so he gave everyone indulgence. Boast, boast, boast. Watch more and more and more of me, me, me.
It’s a drug.
To hell with the phone-charging stations at Coachella. To hell with the Instagram posts and the pics and the clicks and our culture’s obsession with its front-facing camera.
What are we doing to ourselves?
I’m not saying that taking a photo or recording a video is inherently wrong, but it’s still not the same as being there. We’ve got to remember what it means — and what it feels like — to be present with one another and with ourselves. We’re far too distracted and far too self-absorbed.
Recently, Nolan had the opportunity to meet one of his favorite artists — Role Model. I asked him if he wanted me to take a photo of the two of them together, and he responded, “No, thanks. That’s what everyone else is doing. Maybe he’ll remember me because I didn’t ask for his photo. Either way, I want to talk to him about his music.”
He gets it. A picture with Role Model would have done “really well” — whatever that means. But Nolan’s been friends with and watched enough of an entire culture of kids his age compete for a photo to know that all the “likes” in the world will only leave you wanting for more. He’s just a fan of the guy’s music, and that’s enough.
Not everything needs a post. And not every post is worth seeing.
We keep staring at this screen, watching other people “have” the experiences we want to have, when in reality, the people who are “having” those experiences, aren’t.
I wonder what it would be like to talk to Steve Jobs, were he alive today? Could he ever have imagined what his inventions would become? Did he envision it going this far?
Speaking of music, it was fascinating to watch the rise of vinyl records surpass digital sales over the past few years. Even Forbes ran articles on the phenomena that are physical sales skyrocketing in a digital age. We’ve seen the same type of thing when it comes to print journals and productivity resources as opposed to app-based systems. In his art, Nolan has found himself more and more attracted to film photography over and above his digital lens.
I’m convinced that it’s all related. We’re starved for anything other than digital everything. It’s what happens when addictions — once so gratifying — curdle and turn sour. Envy fuels us, and however cliche, “keeping up with the Joneses” is exhausting.
But how else are we going to know what’s going on unless we’re tapped continuously into Facebook?
How else are we going to prove to the world that we mean something unless we’re always putting our best selves out there and pleading its attention?
We all bought into this hivemind that said: You HAVE to post something. But now that we have to, we’re all tired, functioning out of deficiencies, and I’m convinced that none of us want to.
There’s a saying that goes: comparison is the thief of joy. Well, I’d like to add something to that. Most of what we’re comparing ourselves to are fake. Do you know how many older men and soccer moms are dressed up to take Coachella pictures in Off White and Yeezys next to Post Malone posters (an artist they’ve never even heard of before), flashing their VIP badges and adding thirty hashtags to the gram?
It’s fake. At best, it’s an attempt to escape. At worst, it’s dishonesty. It’s an entitlement and grasping for the vanity that another double-tap is on a picture that someone far away will stare at for long enough to wish they were you, and then scroll past, left wondering how the grass is so dead on their side of the fence (phone screen).
I know I’m going hard on this one. Old Man Craig is back again.
I can’t help but wonder what it would be like for us to just be. Right here. Right now. We’re always everywhere else with these computers in our back pocket. We are distracted and anxious, wondering what someone else is doing that we aren’t, or whether they’re seeing what we’re doing when they aren’t.
I know there’s a flipside.
I’m fully aware that it’s not all fake.
It’s not all lies.
It’s not all motivated by the need for validation.
It’s not wrong to share a picture.
It’s not wrong to be excited about an experience.
Mark Twain said, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to share it with,” but that’s part of the problem — are we really with the people receiving our “joy?”
Last year, Levi told me about a comedian named Bo Burnham. He has an incredible Netflix special titled Make Happy, with one bit in particular where he talks about social media, saying that the entertainment industry has become all of us, all the time, endlessly. He says this:
“I worried that making a show about performing would be too meta — it wouldn’t be relatable to people who aren’t performers.
But what I found is that I don’t think anyone isn’t.
They say it’s a ‘Me Generation’ — it’s not. The arrogance is taught, or it was cultivated. It’s self-conscious. It is conscious of self. Social media is just market’s answer to a generation that demanded to perform. So the market said,
‘Here, perform. Everything. To each other. All the time. For no reason.’
It is horrific.
It is performer and audience melded together.
What do we want more at the end of the day than to lay there and watch our life as a satisfied audience member?
I know very little about anything, but what I do know is that if you can live your life without an audience.
You should do it.”
Perhaps what I’m getting at is that too much of a good thing can make you sick. It can make you sick as the “performer,” and it can make you sick as the “observer” — and all of us seem to have become both. Last November, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America published a fascinating article about social media obsession and anxiety disorders, saying that our addiction to platforms like Facebook and Twitter “can greatly reduce [our] ability to enjoy real life,” costing us relationships, jobs, and education.
Too much “medicine” is poisonous, and I’m convinced that our underlying need to “record the moment” –every single moment — is toxic.
What about simply being in it?
Is here and now so bad that we must continuously distract and filter and garner the approval of others to feel alright about who and where we are?
As a fast-moving, quick-starting achiever of a man, I know that changing habits is hard work. I know that social media feels like the epitome of bustling, noisy craziness. It’s like the manifestation of what my head feels like all too often, and I know that I’m not blameless when it comes to overindulging in my feeds.
But I have also learned what it feels like to step away from the noise.
To sit in the mundane.
The slowness of real life.
The quiet that is possible if we will proactively mute the chatter.
The music that does move you if you’re willing to pay attention.
The conversations that aren’t cluttered if you’re willing to engage the human being in real life across the table from where you’re sitting.
The silence that does whisper when you’re patient enough to hear it.