Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Culture of Distraction

I'm all for constantly remaining connected. Whenever I am on a computer, I usually keep my Gmail account open so I can instantly know if someone sends me an email or instant messages me. I keep my cell phone within my sight at almost all times. But I think there is a point when certain other "distractions" should take the place of connectivity-related distractions, wouldn't you agree?

If you know me personally or have been following me on Twitter, you are probably aware of all the free cultural events I have been attending in the city this summer: David Byrne concert in Prospect Park, the New York City Opera and Orchestra at South Seaport Pier 17, a poetry reading and Meredith Monk tribute concert at Rockefeller Park, the Figment collaborative art festival on Governor's Island,
Harold and Maude in Bryant Park, "Pay What You Wish" Saturdays at the Guggenheim, Siren Music Festival on Coney Island, the Colombian Independence Day celebration in Flushing Meadows...the list goes on and on. And while most of these events are far from formal, they are still, for the most part, performances -- cultural, artful "distractions" from work, school, life, or any other mundane, repetitive, commonplace part of everyday living. When one is dedicating their time to the viewing of or participation with performance or a cultural event, is it too much to ask that emails and text messages are ignored, at least for an hour or the length of a film or the course of a musical performance? Is it too much to assume that everyone loves to get lost in these types of experiences as much as I do, that it's not about just being there and saying you were there but actually about experiencing something new and having it alter you, even if that alteration is ever so slight? My basic sentiment, to quote Gob Bluth of the wonderful Arrested Development,

"Come on!!"

Two instances have gotten me particularly up in arms lately:

1) When I was home in California, my boyfriend took me and his brother's girlfriend to see Andrew Bird perform at the Greek Theater, a beautiful, woodsy, outdoor venue nestled on the hillside of Griffith Park. I sat to the left of my boyfriend with a mid-thirty-something year old man to my left who was text messaging almost
continuously throughout the show. Now, we certainly weren't inside where extraneous light would certainly be distracting, but the LED glow emitting from that screen was piercing through the darkness of the amphitheater like a searchlight on the middle of a lake at midnight. It was completely distracting in my peripheral vision, and I made a point of perching on the verrry edge of my seat so as not to be distracted by his blinding cellular device, somewhat hoping he would pick up on the hint that his glowing cell screen was bugging the shit out of me, as if my sideways glances and tisking weren't enough of an indication.

If you are
that bored during a musical event and not paying attention to something that you paid to see, just get the hell out and let the rest of us focus. Seriously. His slouching posture made it clear that his texts were not urgent or necessary, as did his occasional bursts of air-violining whenever he decided to tune in to the illustrious Andrew Bird's beautiful set. This to me is almost worse than messing around with one's cell phone during a free performance or event, especially since one has paid to be there. But then again, I think I've recently developed an even more sensitive relationship to what it means to spend money on something. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it's polite and probably worthwhile to pay attention during a live performance. Even if the live performance is of the ilk executed by the landlord in The Big Lebowski, it's probably a more unique experience than whatever is going on in the ether with one's social networks.

2) I mentioned above that I went to see
Harold and Maude in Bryant Park. What I failed to mention was what an intriguing experience it was. I could honestly write an entire post about struggling through a sea of people to find a patch of grass large enough for myself and my roommate, the gay couple that was taking pictures of me because they apparently liked my outfit, the fact that everyone got up to dance when the HBO introduction began - but the element of the evening that was the most relevant to the topic of this post has to be the group of girls in their late teens sitting directly ahead of us on the lawn. Before the film started there was a silly Merrie Melodies Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon, during which this group of girls proceeded to take endless arms-length focal distance photos of themselves (someone with less respect for women might call these "cam whore" shots, but no, I'm not going to do that here. I'm not going to go so low as to dub these girls "cam whores.") with the flash pointed directly at my retinas. They would then proceed to giggle and scream if the photos were not to their liking or happened to capture a double chin or an awkward blink. I figured I wouldn't allow myself to get too upset until the actual film started since for now was just a cartoon, but when the film started and the Myspace-whore photo-snapping did not subside and one of the girls turned to the group sitting to their right and asked "What movie are we watching?", I was visibly gritting my teeth with rage. Not only did these girls not even know what movie they were all meeting up to see, but they were also ruining the entertainment factor for others who very much did know what movie they were about to watch with their inconsiderate behavior. They weren't there for the actual experience. They were there to document that they were there, to have a reason to post photos to their Facebook profiles, and not at all for the film. In fact, about a half an hour into the movie the girls began dropping like flies until they had all packed up their digicams and their loud mouths and left the park before the film had even reached the tree liberating scene.

In short, I guess I get pretty aggravated when peoples' lack of interest in an event or a performance are blatant and visible. Especially when that lack of interest bleeds into text messaging and taking photos that impose on my vision and attention - there's a reason why cell phones are banned in movie theaters and museums. And the fact that this activity is so rampant even further enforces my belief that appropriate mediated behavior should be considered as much of a civic responsibility as picking up one's trash.

Okay, so maybe that's going a bit far. But I think you get my point.

1 comment:

Princess Leah said...

Here is my take, and it involves doing something that I almost never do: quoting my father.

When I was a kid, my Dad constantly complained about my Mom's non-stop doing-ness. Mom was always washing dishes while balancing the checkbook while watching tv while brushing little sis's hair. (Note: she mostly HAD to do everything, because Dad did nothing. Which probably made him feel somewhat guilty, hence his griping about it.)

Anyhoo, Dad used to say to Mom (by way of complaint) "You're never doing what you're doing!"

Which sums up our culture, I think. Everyone is so busy doing the next goddam thing that they are not doing/experiencing what is happening right now. We have become a society of doing rather than being.

I've never liked taking pictures or video during an event, because it distracts me from what is happening. It seems too much like not doing what I'm doing. It is future-directed rather than now-directed; one is recording images for future enjoyment & reference, rather than being in the moment and having the experience.

Lately I have been feeling that there will be a cultural backlash against all of the constantly-in-contact aspects of daily life. Not quite sure what form it will take but it will involve aspects of the 1960's/est/be here now vibe.

Oh, and also most people are thoughtless, rude creeps.