Standing in the stadium crowd watching Lady Gaga earlier this month, I along with 55,000 other fans lifted my phone and took a photo. On my way home from the gig, I flipped through the montage of photos, gifs and videos I had made during the evening and one image stood out from all the rest. It's a photo - not so much of Gaga, who appears on the right astride a giant spectral horse - but of a mass of hands raised in unison, each one holding a phone. Each one reaching to capture the moment and with it, some small piece of Gaga herself.
I work right at the edge of mobile technology, in augmented reality - an emerging space that enables us see digital content in a new, more engaging way. Like most of us, I am never more than three feet away from my mobile. And yet, I find myself wondering is a modern life lived entirely through the lens, constantly directing the shot and posting the result, a life well lived? Might there be a right time and a not so right time to hold up our devices and create content in this way? And what does the constant recording of the moment mean for our lived experience, for our sense of self?
The opening ceremony of the Olympics was a spectacular event, watched on screen by hundreds of millions. During the procession of the athletes, I was surprised to see so many of them recording their own participation with their camera phones. Why record that moment yourself and obscure your own view, when a thousand cameras are already doing it? On reflection, I think I understand the underlying motivation as it drives me too. It's no longer enough for me to live in the moment - I often feel the need to capture and pin it like a butterfly, tag and share it. My sense of the real has shifted. The real, for me, has become digitised.
I increasingly remember significant events in my life in the digital format I recorded them. Digital technology has changed not only the way I record my life, but also the way I mentally process and recall it. I carefully add filters to my memories and share them with my network, experiencing life not only as I live it, but to some degree as others will consume it. I detect in myself a hunt for social currency - based not only on human closeness or intimacy - but on likes and retweets and click throughs. As individuals, we now search for online engagement in the same way that brands do. We have become brands, each and everyone of us with a social account to our username, and we package and market our selves accordingly. This is the opt-in productisation of our lives, our loves, our opinions and our dreams.
I'm not against this tide. I love it - or at least aspects of it. But some consideration of and perhaps even reframing of the desire to capture every moment could be in order. I remember when I went to see Prince at the O2 in 2007, the last night of his 21 gigs. At his request, the audience were strictly told not to use recording devices or phones during the performance and twitchy security were poised to enforce. My friends grumbled at his supposedly archane attitude to copyright but with hindsight, I think the "no cameras" rule may have been a reflection of Prince's desire for us to really experience the show - not as Nathan Barley's 'self-facilitating media nodes', but as human beings living in that moment. I didn't lift my phone once and looking back, I savour the memory even without an attendant digital shadow buried deep in Facebook posts past.
No doubt this tide will carry us to new ways of seeing and recording the world around us, more ergonomic ways than holding up a mobile phone. The mainstream adoption of eye wear is coming ever closer - witness models at Diane Von Furstenburg's SS13 show in New York last week, marching down the runway sporting Sergey's augmented specs like harbingers from a faster paced, better dressed tomorrow's world.
Searching the Self
Much has been made of the kind of content we will be able to see with such eyewear, but far less often discussed is the kind of content they will be able to capture. The likelihood is that, in addition to placing a digital user-interface on the world and augmenting our reality, wearable devices will also be able to simultaneously record and share our first person real-time view. Expect your every move and conversation to become instantly searchable / saleable with this increasing digitisation of human experience. Surely no-one would bet against this as being a core objective behind Google's Project Glass?
To ask whether these developments are good or bad is perhaps to miss the point. Like the models on the New York runway, technological progress marches on regardless, leaving our social mores and attitudes to self shifting in their disruptive wake. I for one shall continue to sit front row - hell, I'm in tech marketing after all. But deep down, I hope there'll always be a time and a place where we can totally unplug our digital selves and party like it's 1999.
Credit: DVF [Glass], Google