The Burning Man community/art/expression festival, currently ongoing somewhere in a desert in the US, is hailed as the place where creativity flourishes, dreams come true, anything becomes possible to anybody. It should be one of the last oasis from the disrupted and rushed modern world. But is it? Here is an insider story.
The problem was that half the people around me couldn’t really appreciate the moment because they were too busy trying to capture it, in some crude or clumsy way. A forest of thousands of phones and point-and-shoot cameras protruded from the crowd, held by people with unrealistically optimistic expectations of their sensors’ low-light capabilities. Meanwhile, a camera on a boom swung back and forth from the burn to the crowd, who cheered as if on command when it faced them; and high above, a brightly glowing drone armed with a GoPro buzzed amid the smoke.
How ironic is it that people rush to an event to connect with their inner creativity, only to disconnect themselves behind the viewer when the “moment” comes? I know the urge too well. The smartphone might be one of the greatest inventions in the last decade, empowering us with all-time connectivity. We can now communicate and share with anybody, anytime.
But a smartphone can also be a trojan horse. Pushed by our desire to capture and share, we somehow learned how to be self-conscious exactly when the truly crucial moment comes.
- Here is the entrée/main dish/dessert. Wait, let me take a photo.
- That’s a beautiful sunset. Wait, let me take a photo.
- Look, a cat is bouncing! Wait, let me take a photo.
I wonder if we are going to start capturing the “moment” that happens inside our bedroom. “Wait, let me…” Maybe it is a question of when, not if.
Instantly, we pull ourselves from the “doer” position and sits literally behind the camera, putting us in the “observer” chair. We are both an actor and a director. As an actor, we rehearse (=carry our smartphones) to capture the depth of a scene (=take photos or tweet or post on Facebook). When that moment comes, we switch into a director (=carefully analyze the situation and offers the best for the audience).
It is easy to say (but difficult to do) that we should get off both the actor’s and director’s position and start truly living, not playing a role. Why can’t we simply go back to our old days?
As in all attempts to “turn the clock back,” I think we can’t, because what we are currently doing with our smartphones isn’t different from what we were doing in our analog days, at least on the surface.
All forms of “traditional” art, ranging from poem to writing to painting to music to filmmaking to performance, tries to capture a specific moment the creator has experienced, and recreate it in a unique form. We have been capturing the “moment” and sharing the experience since the dawn of humanity (even the cavemen painted on the walls). That desire itself is ingrained in our DNA.
The smartphone simply brought the capture & share closer in terms of timing. And who doesn’t want it? Why can’t we share our magnificent experiences while they are jumping fresh? The issue right now is that we are all forgetting the fact that before capturing and sharing, experiencing must come first. We can’t truly capture or share what hasn’t touched our soul, and as well all know, a genuine experience occurs only when we are fully engaged.
I have no doubt that ancient artists might wished they had a better tool to capture and share a moment more quickly and efficiently. But the lack of tool also allowed them to fully immerse themselves into whatever moment they were in, while it was happening.
The writer of the aforementioned Burning Man article, being a geek, is optimistic that we will eventually reach a point where the capturing and sharing phase does not bother us any more, thus allowing us to fully engage into what we are doing.
We have a long way to go before personal technology is seamlessly integrated into our immediate experiences, rather than getting in their way and filtering the life and spark from them. But I think we’re slowly getting there. Eventually, as we weave technology into every aspect of the human condition, personal tech will do what we want and need it to, in context, with the slightest and most subtle of triggers, and very little physical or cognitive distraction.
I am not exactly convinced. The fact that we are aware that our experience is being shared in real-time still remains. Can we live and act normally when recorded live? As a stage actor, or worse…a member of the Osbournes?
I don’t have a solution yet (as usual). What might be the best way?