Where is your phone?
In your pocket. Next to your arm. Resting on your lap. In your hands as you read this. What model is it? Mine is an iPhone 11, red, cracked on the back and the front, and I don’t have a phone case.
If you’re inclined, I invite you to open your photos. Browse through. Click on old memories, smile at them. How many photos do you have? How many videos?
How many of those videos were moments you didn’t fully experience, as you were too busy trying to capture it instead?
This isn’t an attack, no. Perhaps I worded that too harshly. This is, as I should always write, more of an observation.
Because I went to a show last night. A friend invited me, and it’s nice to be wanted, so along I went. We all need friends like that in our lives. Those gems who call us, I have a spare ticket, are you busy? They may have bought it deliberately for us, or maybe their original friend cancelled, and we were a last choice, but a thought is a thought. I didn’t know the people playing, it didn’t bother me, as I simply wanted to live and feel again and forget even for an hour. I just…I just couldn’t help but notice something.
It was as though I was watching the show a hundred times over, each time through a little electronic screen. There were fingers zooming in and zooming out, tapping here and there for better focus, starting, stopping, starting the recording. Eyes lowering the check that the moment was captured before starting again.
Eyes which only watched through the camera.
A wave, no, an ocean of people who stood still, adamant in their desire to encapsulate the moment.
Isn’t the moment in the here and now? It’s in the jostling, shoulders bumping, hands clutching onto plastic cups of watery beer, feet moving forwards and backwards, hands up and waving, and mouths singing and shouting.
At the risk of sounding somewhat aged, the moment isn’t staring through a screen, lifting higher for a better angle.
We make moments. We shape them with our interaction, our cheers, our clapping along and then inevitably losing beat, our weaving in and out and around the crowd. A throng of people for whom, this right now, the heat, sweat, sticky floors and frizzled hair, this is life. Am I wrong? Do we instead stand to one side and left the moment pass, not without a few five-minute videos saved, which we may or may not view at a later date?
Have I been guilty of this? Had I let experiences slide so I could get that perfect, social-media-ready, envy-inducing photo?
Many years ago, or rather, not that many, three years ago, I went to a show. The vocalist, prior to starting the set, encouraged us to keep our phones away and to enjoy the event as it was happening. Do they feel it? The performers on the stage, have they noticed this steep shift in the crowd? Once, we carried digital cameras with us, bulky and inconvenient compared to today’s technology. Taking photos was a challenge, and so we didn’t. We went home, battered and bruised, stopping for chips on the street corner, with our memories and ticket stubs. And we remembered.
Inside that sea of Samsungs, Apples, Nokias, Huaweis, whatevers, I spied a man. He was tall, but not too tall, with puffy hair that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 1980s, with a faded red sweater, underneath of which he wore a white button-up. His sleeves were rolled up, and glasses kept slipping from the bridge of his nose.
He sang along, one arm in the arm, finger pointed as if to say to the skies, I am here.
He was alone. One moving body surrounded by stillness.
I admired him, me, from my position of in the corner, tucked away to watch, holding an empty bottle of too-sweet cider I’d panic ordered at the bar.
He was the audience.
One song ended, another one started, and he gave it his all. And I was enthralled. I saw in him…me. The old me. The old men from a decade ago, who never thought of the future, never planned, never worried, who just did and damn all of you who were bothered by it.
As the songs went on, I saw his energy and his resolve waver. He became…self-conscious. Aware that his were the only arms moving, his was the loudest voice singing, his were the shoulders bumping into others, thereby disrupting their recording.
After a while, he stopped.
I saw in him, as I did before, me.
He stopped living and stood still.
Perhaps he was embarrassed. Perhaps he was hot. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it and he was tired.
I missed him. I missed his awkwardness, pale arms flailing not quite with the beat of the drum, his stumbling of words every now and then, the pushing back up of the glasses. I missed his happiness.
I miss mine, too.
Is that why we take photos and videos? Because one day, when we can’t feel it anymore, we can still remember its sensation, scrolling through? That warming fizzing inside our chests, glowing underneath our skin, shining through our eyes, its wonderfulness that gives us the will to keep going on.
I left before the end of the show, with a misshapen red sweater and the view of a hundred phones in my mind.
Whoever you were, keep dancing. Don’t ever stop.
Not like I did.
📸Image: Google Images. First one I saw.