Through the Viewing Glass

The validity in capturing every moment

A tourist records city life in Amsterdam

A fifty-minute flight and the disparity in scenery couldn’t have been vaster. The air was heavier; passing funky aromas of marijuana seemed to fall hand in hand with the laughter of good times being had. Outside one of the local supermarkets, an Albert Heijn, a group of chattering teenagers gathered around the steps clad in bright coloured denim and loud hairstyles, sitting for the duration of our hunt for anything that reminded us of home — Pringles, Doritos, Special K breakfast snack bars.

On the first full day of the trip we queued patiently for the guided bus tour of the city whilst people behind us rustled around backpacks frantically searching for tickets, squabbling over packed sandwiches and portable iPhone chargers. The new face of exploring seemed to scream out in that moment; it was more ugly, more obvious. The way in which we communicate had varied, but the way in which we consumed, not just content, not just music or film or words on a page, but real living breathing places also. The way in which we discovered now relied on the lens of a camera, on the battery life of a HD ready camcorder, the Internet connection of a 3G mobile phone.

It seemed we turned up to these locations with rarely much else above the intentions of returning with recorded evidence to later relive the destination through; the very notion of travelling now altered. The scenery was different, the food odd smelling and arguably tastier, the language not one we lay too familiar with, but the people inhabiting the city? Their habits? It echoed that of every other city-dwelling human being we’d ever before encountered. So scarily connected to the living breathing world through technology, through pixels and emails and collected memories ably recalled upon at the swipe of a finger, the entrance of a passcode. Saddening in many aspects to witness — the believed connectivity provided by a device rather proposing new methods of disconnecting from the real and the now.

A woman cycles by a quiet alleyway

It was in looking beyond those who populated the city we really allowed ourselves the luxury of experiencing the breathtaking cultural treasures of the Netherlands capital — the many shaded corners and smart backstreet boozers with fruity Trappist beers, the odd futuristic office buildings and obscure dingy sex shops, and the record store once brothel now proudly housing one of the best selections of vinyl in Amsterdam. Redlight Records was parked neatly behind the cities oldest church (built around 1250 AD), still surrounded by large near-nude women banging at the neighbouring windows, begging to show a good time and perhaps lighten the holiday funds of anyone who dared venture.

Two builders take a lunch break

Eliminating technology altogether probably doesn’t present itself as either an ideal or possible situation for many — work demands crop up, emergencies happen — but dropping the phone, the camera, the pressing need to record every last detail for an afternoon in Amsterdam may just afford you something worth disconnecting for. It may just offer you a story to tell.