March 19, 2013
The next big thing – Real Life
Hello there. Yes, it’s been a while.
I’ve just returned from 4 days in beautiful Austin where I was attending the SxSW Music Festival (yes, I know some people call it SxSW Interactive & Music…but I am a bit old school when it comes to this event). I have attended this festival for just about every single year for the past 15 or 16. It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year as it gives me a lot of inspiration to see so many great young artists perform.
This isn’t a piece about how great it used to be “back in the day” or to criticize anything about what it has become. Yes, there were great things about the way it used to be. You could walk down 6th street without playing human pinball with thousands of slightly intoxicated people and pop into a small club to find your next favorite artist. Today it’s crowded and there are shows everywhere you look. There are sponsors everywhere trying to get your attention, providing you with special access if you’re willing to wait in a long line to get in. Today’s festival isn’t worse that it used to be. In fact, on some levels its actually better…because there are more & more opportunities to see & hear great music….and to me that’s a great thing.
One of the things that I noticed this year, more than any in the past, is the amount of people standing at shows with their iPhones held high over their heads, snapping up photos for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook; shooting short videos of the show as its happening. If you watch carefully you will notice that they aren’t actually enjoying the show, or the moment they are standing in. Rather, they are too busy snapping a photo then immediately putting their head down to type a caption before posting it to their favorite social media platform. I was blown away by the sheer number of people taking photos, non-stop during a few of the shows I attended. What happens to these photos? Do they make us feel better about ourselves when we go back and look at them when we get home? Are we somehow superior to our friends who couldn’t make the show? Does it make us cooler because we can prove, along with 1,000 other people with almost exactly the same photo, that we were “in the moment”?
DISCLAIMER: I love Instagram. I think its one of the coolest new platforms to come out in a long time. It allows people to show you their world, their perspective, their creativity. I use it almost every day to document where I am. I take a quick shot of my sneakers and then I post under a series called “same sneakers, different place”. I do this to document my journey through life…through the perspective of my sneakers. And, for those of you know what I do for a living, it sort of makes sense why I do it. I insert this in here to say that I am not against social media in any way whatsoever. I love it. But, I think we may be going too far….ok ,so let’s get back to SxSW now…
As I stood in show after show I witnessed person after person taking pictures and then immediately posting them. This head up, arm up, followed by an immediate head down, arm down typing motion caused me to wonder if anyone was really there to begin with. Well, we know people were in the venue but were they present? They were standing next to their best friend and texting or posting to another friend. There was very little actual interaction & connection between the people standing right next to each other.
I would love it if someone like Instagram (yes, I know they won’t do something like I am about to suggest) had a way of allowing only one photo from a concert or an event to be posted. Let’s ay we all went to see Jay Z…and someone in the front row posted a great shot of him as he started his set….and then the rest of us (all 24,999 of us) tried to post our own photo and we received a message that said, “we already have our quota of Jay Z shots form today’s show….please feel free to use this shot to send to your friends after the show or in the morning when you wake up. Now, please put your damn phone down and enjoy the rest of your evening”.
Yes, I know. I like to dream…..but how great would it be for all of us who are at the show to know that its ok not to spend the entire evening standing there looking like a fool trying to video the entire show? How great would it be to actually be able to stand there and see the artist perform because you were no longer looking at the backside of a thousand people imitating the Statue of Liberty? (I am starting to think that the French are behind this entire thing…..giving us the Statue of Liberty was just their ay of showing us how to stand at a concert.) How great would it be to stand there with your friends, phones placed safely away in your back pocket, and scream at the top of your lungs after your favorite song is played, or better yet – sing along at the top of your lungs as your favorite song is played without fear that your friend is recording the whole thing and is going to embarrass you on Facebook when he posts it and tells his network how poorly you sing? C’mon people – let it rip…sing your heart out because you are ALIVE!
How great would it be to actually just enjoy the show?
I am predicting right now (this isn’t too bold of a prediction, I know) that at some point in the near future that people will begin to realize that it isn’t about the photo, the post, or the number of likes you are able to generate. It’s about the experience and the moment you are in. Live music is one of the last true experiences you can have with your friends, loved ones, or perfect strangers. The show you are attending isn’t going to happen again in the exact same manner its happening while you are there. It’s time to put down the phones, raise your head and really watch what is happening. Sometimes life is better without the picture……and with just a real memory that is forever burned into your memory.
Well, maybe prediction is the wrong word. Maybe the word is hopeful. Yes, I am hopeful that at some point my dream of people once again enjoying the moment, in the real world, will happen. I am trying my best to start the process, to begin the march, to inspire just a few more folks to stop – listen, see, smell, and actually feel the music.
When you look back at your life will you remember how many likes you had from the Prince show or will you remember who you were with, how you guys felt, what the band sounded like, what the show really looked like, how the room smelled, and how (or if) it somehow touched your heart?
I might be getting too old to really understand why this seems so important to people…but I can tell you this is the one thing that I miss about how SxSW used to be….people used to enjoy the moment & the interaction with each other and the artist a lot more.
So, please join my march……the next time you’re at a show with your friends pull out your iphone, take a shot of the band during the first song, put it away, and then enjoy the show…and at the end close your eyes tightly and try hard to remember your favorite moment of the show. Was it when they played your favorite song? Was it when your best friend said something funny? Was it when everyone in the place went insane when the band played that song they never play live anymore? What was it? As you decide your favorite moment, put it into your mind, and make a shutter clicking sound to yourself. There…you have taken a very special mental picture that only you can see. And that, my friend, is the only photo that really matters.
Yes – the next big thing is….Real Life…..and there is no App for that.
Thank you for listening. It’s nice to be back & writing again.
Thanks to SxSW for providing me the inspiration to write it down.