Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In Praise of the Unmediated, Unscripted Life

This weekend, one of my best friends and I attended a Bon Jovi concert, which was (of course) extravagantly fantastic.

On what do I base this pronouncement, you may ask? Consider:

It's one thing to be a hot 20-something band playing to a crowd of hot 20-something fans, getting them fired up, calling out, and caught up in the music. I mean, honestly -- when I was 20, I'd endanger my car speakers if a song played on the radio that I *sort of* liked.

It's another thing entirely to be a hot 50-year old (if only all men aged half so well...) headlining a band of your contemporaries (good LORD, Tico Torres turns 60 this year! Drumming does a body good!) playing to a crowd, many, if not most, of whom remember when MTV banned the music video for "Living in Sin" because it was too racy.

The original high school and college-aged fans have grown up. They now have kids of their own. Grandkids. Mortgages. Medical issues. Responsibilities. Bed times. It can take a Herculean effort to get them off the couch and out of the house. Imagine trying to get them out of their seats and on their feet for almost three hours!

Yet that's exactly what Jon and the band did. From eight o'clock till eleven, they had me and 20,000 of my closest friends standing, rocking along with them while they performed songs from the past 30 years right up through the present, from "Runaway" to "Amen." It was a testament to how the band, like a fine wine, has only improved with time.

It was also a study in How Times Have Changed and a rather sad testimony to how we have allowed technology to rob us of yet another Great Experience.

I, in center floor seats, saw this:

Photo © 2013 David Bergman / www.BonJovi.com/prints -- Bon Jovi at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH on March 10, 2013.

But, in a living example of what the University of Iowa's professor Brooks Landon terms "our increasingly mediated society," the vast majority of the concertgoers experienced the entire live event vicariously through the lens of a 4" screen. Most of the people around me saw something more like this:

We're trading experience for pixels, distancing ourselves from what we're trying to embrace. Perhaps even more distressing, in doing so, our attempt to capture something cripples our ability to live in the moment and fully experience it.

We aren't the only ones to pay the price when we choose to fill memory cards rather than our actual memories.  A friend with different musical tastes than I recently attended a Clint Black concert with her husband. Several times during the course of the event, Clint stopped the concert and kindly asked the audience members to put their cell phones on "airplane" mode, because the electronic feedback was killing his ears.

So it has come to this. We literally script our lives, preferring to upload them in bite-sized set pieces online in order to pander to the random viewer and furiously thumb-texting people who are not present, rather than commit to the moment and engage with those who share it.

Experiencing a live event through the screen of a phone is as satisfying as licking an ice-cream cone with a sock on your tongue.

Two hours and forty-five minutes into last night's concert, in the early notes of the final song, the phone battery of the woman standing next to me died. She was terribly upset, briefly grumbling to her friend (who continued recording), before putting her phone away and resigning herself to finishing out the night phone-free. Soon, however, she was singing and dancing along with the rest of us who were unencumbered by recording devices -- the first time all evening she connected with the band instead of with the gadget in her hand.

In 1989, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora distanced themselves from amplified, production-heavy sound and played an all-acoustic set for the MTV Video Music Awards. Six months later, MTV unveiled their award-winning "MTV Unplugged" show, which has remained popular ever since.

Why not do the same?

Unplug yourself. Turn your phone off. For a few blissful hours, take a technology sabbatical. Dare to not record a thing. Revel in your freedom from Facebook, Twitter, and texting. Cut the power cord.  Remind yourself that this moment -- THIS moment -- will never come again. Take a break from mediating, editing, and uploading. Stop scripting your life and just *live* it. Then, get ready to rock!


David Brown said...

Well said!

I used to try to take "technology sabbatical" every year while on vacation. The last time that I managed to do so was two years ago. When my wife and I checked into the beach house, I turned off my phone and left it off for four days. I used the Internet once during that time to see if it was going to rain on the beach that day. It was quite liberating.

I haven't done so since...probably because I haven't had a vacation in three years. But, that's a different story...

Ami Hendrickson said...


Thanks for commenting.

A few years ago I was at a film festival. One of the agents there had landed at the airport to discover that he'd been fired by one of his A-list clients because said client couldn't reach him via phone *while he was flying.* It took him the better part of 3 days to smooth the ruffled feathers & regain his client. Those who live by the phone die by the phone...

IMO, you are long overdue for both a vacation AND a techno sabbatical. Go ahead -- liberate yourself. You deserve it! :)