Over a decade ago, I read a book called 'Life: The Movie'.
The thrust of the book was that our desire to create narratives and our obsession with the media have led us to experience our lives as a form of entertainment. I found it an interesting read at the time, and might go back and revisit it at some point. I agreed with a lot of the points made, however creepy and depressing I found them.
That book, of course, was written in the days before iPods and smartphones. In the last decade, our relationship with media has become ever-more complicated. More than just creating and nurturing our own narratives on social media, we're very much into cultivating ourselves as brands. We attempt to manage others' perception of ourselves in the way that previously only large companies had to do.
And, in a way that's slowly driving me insane, we keep score.
It crept up on me, the score-keeping thing. I was never one for trying to amass vast numbers of friends of Facebook or wherever. Once I'd reached enough Twitter followers that it felt like someone was listening, I stopped worrying about that, too. Those, however, aren't the only ways that modern life invites us to keep score, and a couple of the other ones somehow got their hooks into me without me even noticing.
My iPod keeps track of what I listen to. Of course it does. I've got one of those old fashioned ones with a great big hard drive rather than a dinky, cloud-compatible 2013 version. It's got more or less my entire music collection on it, and it pays attention to what I listen to. I can sort things by 'most played', 'most recent', 'all time top 50' and so on.
It only logs each listen if the song is played right the way through, though. That's where the score-keeping starts to creep in.
I realised about a year ago that I was growing increasingly averse to skipping out of songs before they'd entirely finished. If, say, I skip out the lengthy feedback at the end of 'Girls Like You' by the awesome The Naked and Famous, then my iPod won't register that I've played the track. Suddenly, my favourite track on the album would become the least played track on the album because I hadn't listened to the outro feedback in its entirety before listening to something else. Those hidden tracks that were de rigueur on CDs in the 90s? They're now a recipe for messing up your iPod statistics by forcing the listener to skip around. I want my 'most listened' to actually reflect my most listened, so I end up listening to feedback. Or silence. If I've pulled into the driveway at the end of an epic song, I'll actually sit and listen to the last 30 seconds before getting out of the car just to ensure that the previous 10 minutes of listening to Jane's Addiction's '3 Days' don't go unrecorded on the device.
In other words, I've managed to turn the act listening to music into a point-scoring exercise, and life gets a bit more video-gamey.
Elsewhere on the dwindling fringes of my sanity lie those web pages which encourage you to keep track of the movies you've seen. After seven years or so of keeping track, I've had to quit those cold turkey because they were messing with my fun. They were taking the joy out of catching a big chunk of a crappy movie on late night telly. After all, if I only watch the final hour of Sand Sharks, does that count? Can I tick it off? I'd always been a hard-liner and not considered that I'd properly seen a film if I'd so much as ducked out for a wee, so the line between having seen or not seen a film gained some ridiculous set of rules. Whether something 'counted' or not began to dictate the experience of watching, and began to suck the fun out of channel-hopping in this media-soaked age.
Thus, I've decided to quit.
I hereby forsake score-keeping of all kinds. Websites with tick lists, gadgets with play counters, social media with virtual scorecards to get you hooked just that little bit deeper. They can all take a jump; I'm reclaiming my life from score-keeping. If I want to watch just the second half of Dinosaur Island then I'm going to do just that. If I want to listen to an album but take a pass on the five minute loop of insane laughter at then end of it, that's fine. If I want to alienate all my followers on Twitter by prattling on endlessly about chocolate, then I'd like to see you try and stop me.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and play Space Invaders with black masking tape over the top fifth of the screen. I imagine it'll be weirdly liberating.