“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed,” wrote Christopher Isherwood in the 1930s.
You’ll see it all the time now. Go to a gig and you can expect to see the act, but you can also guarantee that dotted around you there will be people – arms raised high in the air with a screen glowing brightly held between their hands. Sometimes the crowd will be encouraged to raise their phone in the air, as a digital kind of lighter. But usually the screens will be facing away from the stage as the user records the performance to relive the experience later. Frequently, for a moment or two, the user will watch the screen record the performance.
Since the advent of camera phones, the idea of an intimate gig is swiftly dying. What once would have been an unrepeatable event can now be captured and replayed millions of times over. 150 years ago, recorded music didn’t even exist. Today you can record a ten second clip, slap a filter on it, and show it to the world faster than you’d be able to make a cup of tea.
This isn’t an argument for a ban on photographs or recordings. That would be senseless. One of the most bewildering advances of the last decade is that we have the power to capture and share things so quickly. For many, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have already become indispensable tools for day to day life. Without the ability to check your Facebook for a day, one can automatically feel slightly disconnected. We are overwhelmed with images and videos and statuses and tweets. Mostly, there’s nothing wrong with it. Documenting your day to day life can be an immensely gratifying and worthwhile thing, and engaging with others as they do the same is a rewarding experience. But these tools are all immensely addictive and, at times, blinding. We rush so quickly to document something while it’s still happening that we sometimes miss out on the experience itself. Without running into cliché, it’s all too possible to try and relive something before we’ve already lived it. Heavy.
I am the camera, Isherwood writes. Memory is a powerful thing and one that is directly tied directly to emotion. There is no substitute for experience – not even a recording.
Leonard Nimoy died at the end of the last month. In a dizzying sign of the modern era, many have noted his ‘famous last tweet’:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”