Is your social network stopping you from living in the moment?

In the year 2010, memory augmentation is ubiquitous. No sooner has an event occurred, than it is fed into the ever expanding life documenting repository we call the internet. We live in extraordinary times where we never have to forget any memorable experience of our lives. These moments are digitised and disseminated to friends and family to share and chronicle for our journals, for posterity or perhaps just to serve as a tacit reaffirmation of who we are, or want to be.

Whatever our motivation, we are certainly writing our legacies, one upload at a time, but at what cost?

On a crisp Monday afternoon in the South African winter of 2010, my girlfriend and I sat huddled together in the South-West pavilion of Soccer City, Johannesburg watching Denmark play Holland in an early round of the Fifa Soccer World Cup. The sky was a deep hue of blue and without a cloud in sight, the brightly illuminated pitch looked immaculate. It was the quintessential sporting event moment, and yet I was not fully present for it. I was taking pictures and posting them, along with play by play commentary of the game to Twitter and Facebook.

Thinking back, I wonder, have we become a society of documentors, a society of semi-conscious participants in a world where a part of our consciousness has split off to evaluate every moment in terms of its candidacy for technological capturing and allotment?

We’re encouraged to document our lives too. Windows Phone 7 enables autonomous uploading of every snapshot to Facebook, while Eye-Fi backs up all your photos to your computer or the cloud-based service of your choice instantaneously. It’s so easy. We’ve become obsessed with how right now will look tomorrow.

As we speed through life, we often shy away from our own mortality. When I’m no longer here, my digital legacy will remain, but it will be worthless to me. Instead, knowing that every moment is unique, and fleeting, being fully conscious and remembering how to actually live reminds me to sometimes put my gadgets down and suck in the experience.

Whether it’s you trying to get the perfect shot of your child’s piano recital through a viewfinder, or me browsing the blurry photos I took of the Denmark vs. Holland game, “living our own lives vicariously” when we’re already right there for those indescribably spectacular moments of our lives, seems downright certifiable.

When to disconnect, is hard to define. Perhaps the key is balance and the conscious decisions that lead us to use technology to augment our experiences, instead of watering them down. In retrospect, I should’ve probably taken fewer pictures, and annoyed my Twitter followers with less inane updates about the game that I was watching.

In fact, it was my obsessive documenting of the game that lead me to miss out on the scoring of two spectacular goals.

On October 7th 2010, 4 000 participants descended on retail stores in Midtown Manhattan, New York to partake in Improv Everwyhere’s 7th installment of its “MP3” experiment. Participants were asked to download an MP3 file and then press play at exactly 6:00 PM to receive instructions on specific things they should all do simultaneously.

What struck me was the following bit in the preparation post leading up to the event:

“Please note: This is a participatory event. We encourage participants to leave their cameras at home and have fun participating. We request the same from members of the media. Let’s all enjoy the moment and resist the urge to document! Don’t worry, we will have our usual crew taking photos and video for all to see.”

There is no doubt that social media is useful and it played an integral role in organising the event as can be seen by their Facebook event page. The impulse to document the event through technology and social media’s was however, discouraged. This no doubt contributed to the overall spectacle from a spectator’s point of view, but most importantly… everyone was encouraged to be in the moment, and to have fun participating.

Next time the visceral impulse to document grips you, rather consider experiencing the moment in it’s purest, unadulterated glory. “Twitpic or it didn’t happen?” I don’t think so.



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