15 October 2010

fruits of experience vs. experience

 There's this commercial out right now, for some technogadget - a smartphone, maybe - that I absolutely hate. [UPDATE: it's for Verizon; analysis/discussion can be found here]
It shows people in a variety of interesting/important moments, reaching for their phones: a woman in a meeting sees a huge pig balloon; a guy on the beach films bubbles; a pregnant woman has gone into labor and gets her guy.
The catch, or hook, is that while all these things are happening, the people are reaching for their phones to document the moment. The pig balloon and the bubbles aren't really a problem, though frankly, I imagine that anyone taking photos of stuff like that during what looks like a high-powered corporate meeting would probably not be received too positively.
It's the "going into labor" scene that kills me.
The woman walks into a doorway, holding what looks like an overnight bag, and making the universally recognized gestures and expressions for "woman having a baby." The guy, presumably the woman's husband/partner/babydaddy, is sitting on a couch holding his phone. He looks up, sees the Universal Symbols for "I'm In Labor"....and looks back to his phone to text a status update. The commercial voiceover says "own the status update," or something to that effect.

If I was somehow that woman, and I was just announcing to my partner that it was Time to Head to the Hospital, and he responded by sending a text message first, before anything else, that phone would be jammed up his nose so fast his head would spin.

This commercial is a classic example of the thing I have come to hate the most about all this technology we have: that it takes people out of the moment, out of the experience of life, and into some false sense of documentation and sharing.

I see this all the time: kids wandering the city with earbuds in, blasting away, missing out on the cacophony of life happening around them, missing out on the weird overheard bus conversations, the snippets of arguments, of laughter, of weirdness and normalcy and humor that go one constantly.
People at fireworks displays, watching every single burst of color and light through the tiny screen of their cellphone camera. You'll have a great set of pictures of something you never really saw.
True life example: couple with small child at disney world. on the eternal classic/irritant attraction "it's a small world" (and yes, it belongs in quotes). Child is toddler-aged, looking around, ooooh the colors and motion and shiny and so much happening! Mom is reading her emails on her blackberry.
through the entire ride.
at the disembarkation point, as disney workers try to streamline the boarding/exiting process, suddenly, Mom and Dad need a photo of Child Experiencing Ride. Never mind that they couldn't be bothered to pay attention while the ride was happening; never mind that they didn't experience it.

At a lecture recently, the speaker quoted Walter Pater, who (despite my stubborn insistence that I am  a Victorianist, I really am) I have never really read. But this Pater quote just leaped out at me. It's from Pater's book The Renaissance, from the conclusion, where he writes "it is not the fruits of experience, but experience itself" that should be valued, that truly matters.
It isn't the digital photos of the fireworks, it's seeing the fireworks.
It isn't photographing your child at a ride, it's seeing and hearing and discussing the ride with your child.

Life is made up of life, not of a bunch of photos and texts about life.
Fruit goes bad, after all, and in 50 or 75 years those digital photos will be ignored and unremembered and mysterious to everyone who sees them. But the experiences, the life you live, will be with you until you die.
It's almost Platonic, really; do you want the picture of fireworks, or do you want the Real fireworks?
More and more, we seem to be choosing the picture. And this makes me sad. Sending a photo of fireworks to a friend doesn't mean that either of you have experienced anything except the transference of some pixels. There is no there there.

Walter Benjamin, in "The Storyteller," writes that society is replacing experience and story with information. Benjamin wrote that in the late 1930s, not too terribly long before he committed suicide rather than face deportation - and almost certainly, death - at the hands of the Vichy French and Nazis.
Either nothing ever changes, or Benjamin was a prescient, almost psychic, man (I suspect this latter - Benjamin's brilliance makes prescience and psychic ability seem utterly reasonable).
Information, data, pixels, bytes.
fireworks, conversations, toddlers giggling over colorful mechanized animals.

Laughing and gulping and hugging your partner as she goes into labor, not posting an update to Facebook, to people you call "friends" but probably wouldn't recognize if you passed them on the street.

I know which world I want to live in - the one of life, of experience, of doing and being and engaging with people and things and ideas and sights and smells and tastes and sounds and all the fireworks of everyday existence. I want tiny horses, not just pictures of tiny horses.

I don't want to reject wholly the things that technology can bring us. But I want to make sure that the fruits of experience don't overwhelm the experiences themselves. I don't want the picture to become more important than the person.

I want the tiny horses to be gazed at, looked at, admired, considered, contemplated, even if there is no camera in the room, and no one to share the story with.

No comments:

Post a Comment