Actual Reality Versus Virtual Reality

e36c403a615fe441a1420e55a0ff00a83b5ee9d0I was at an Ellie Goulding gig a few days ago. Unusual to see me at a pop gig as I’m usually a jazz man. I do make an exception for the small (very small) number of pop artists that I consider to be genuinely talented and have a unique and interesting sound.

I’m happy to report that Ms Goulding more than lived up to expectations.

Anyway, at one point I the evening, Ellie challenged the audience to put away their mobile phones and engage with the experience of the concert directly rather than viewing everything through their phone while they recorded a video of it – “I like to see your faces – that makes me happy”.

As luck would have it,  I was sitting directly behind a couple of young women in their early to mid twenties. One of them in particular had spent the entire gig to this point either videoing the show (and therefore not watching a single moment through her own eyes) or updating her Facebook profile. Just to remind you, this was a concert by one of popular music’s most celebrated contemporary artists who was putting on one hell of a show. She somewhat grudgingly lowered her phone for Ellie’s exhortation before immediately resuming filming. She and her friend left halfway through the encore, obviously intent upon avoiding the crowds leaving the venue but, in the process, missing the great conclusion to the concert.

I found myself simultaneously irritated and sorry for her. It seemed to me that it was more important to her that her ‘friends’ on Facebook should know that she had been at an Ellie Goulding gig than to actually engage with the musician on stage and enjoy the experience.

I am an amateur musician of sorts. I doubt that anybody will ever want to view one of my performances through their phone while they take a video to post on FB but, if they did, I expect that I would feel annoyed, angry even. I’d probably want to stop playing and ask them to pack it in.

There have been incidents in theatres where actors, incensed by people more interested in their phones than the play and thereby distracting others, have stopped the show and directly addressed the offenders.

Is this really such a big deal?? Well, yes. Actually it is.

Firstly, it is disrespectful to the artist themselves. So what? You might say. They are getting paid anyway, what do they care? If you really think this, then you really do not understand why real artists do their thing. A real artist creates because they have to. If Ellie Goulding, for instance, had not ‘made it’ in the music industry I expect that she would still be writing songs and performing in pubs and clubs around her home town. Why? Because an artist has a need to create. It is something that they must do, even if they have to keep a day job going to pay the bills. They want you to engage with them and their music. Choosing to spend the whole gig looking at your phone is a sign of indifference borne of ignorance. If you’d rather look at your phone do it at home. I’m sure most, if not all artists would rather perform to a room of 100 eager, upturned, faces than 30,000 people with their face buried in a phone.

The more concerning issue though is the mind-set of the people with their phones out. It is a mind-set which is seemingly all pervasive in recent times. I am talking of the phenomenon whereby people live their lives through social media.

You know the sort. They post pictures of their dinner. They post ‘updates’ portraying their ‘perfect lives’ with their ‘perfect partner’ and their ‘perfect children’ (who are they trying to convince I wonder). They judge their success and value by the number of ‘likes’ or comments they get to every post they make.

This phenomenon of living your life on social media is even more invidious with young people. My partners daughter has what I consider to be an unhealthy obsession with getting ‘likes’ to her social media posts. She is not alone; all of her peer group seem similarly obsessed. It ruins experiences because there is a need to be constantly checking a phone or tablet to make sure that you are not missing anything. Many children’s sense of self worth depends on getting a steady stream of ‘likes’. It’s an addiction and it is deeply worrying.

When did looking at a little screen become so much more appealing than looking at the world through your own eyes?

For the likes of these, it is not enough to simply do something and enjoy the experience, they have to tell everyone about it to get the validation of a load of ‘likes’.

And here is the key point. If you take nothing else from this article take this because I consider it to be crucial.

By constantly videoing, posting pictures, taking selfies etc. rather than living in the moment,  people diminish their own life experience.

Yes, you read that correctly. By videoing a concert or whatever, you disallow your own engagement with it because your attention is elsewhere. You are not connecting with the artist who is bringing their creativity to the performance, you are worrying about keeping the phone steady, what comment you are going to add when you post it on Facebook and so on. When the concert is over, you will have a video to look at and show your friends but you won’t have a memory of a complete experience.

This is like ordering a lovely meal in a restaurant and asking someone else to eat it for you so that you can gain their approval. You miss the experience yourself but you are so bound up in worrying about what your ‘friends’ think that their response is all you care about.

It’s actually really sad and quite pathetic.

For your sake, don’t be that person.

Live your life and savour each experience and, for the love of God, keep your fucking phone in your pocket. If not for your own sake then for me because I may be sitting behind you.

As Ellie said “let’s do it like it was 1985”.