Ah, that majestic spectacle. That moving mass-participation event. iPads raised aloft, like so many black monoliths, scooping up the last remaining scraps of an already narrow field of vision, and making it just that little bit harder for the other, ooh, 599,000 of us to get a good look. Little kids on shoulders, fair enough. Big stupid tablets (with flapping wrap around covers, if you please), no. Too much. Much too much. The photo above isn’t a library stock image. It was taken in Albert Dock, its owner craning his neck up to the glared-out screen, trying to work out what was in shot. While a fifty foot friggin’ giant walked right in front of him.
There’s no doubt; camera phones – and similar devices – have changed the way we consume events. But, in our (restricted) view, not for the better. And we’re not the only ones who think it.
“They accept that in filming the concert they’re withdrawing from the live experience but they are also taking away those memories. And then they’re uploading it onto YouTube, demonstrating their attendance at the event,” he says.
In other words, it’s more a case of telling others “I was there”, sending out an MMS to their poor friends who couldn’t get the time off work, or who are unfortunate enough to live in another city. Some are also offering the first record of the event, and are desperately driven to be the first Tweeter to get RTed, and beat traditional media.
What’s that about? Should we be getting our camera phone out just because we can? Or should we just stand and soak up the event, safe in the knowledge that there will be a million pictures (all, undoubtedly, better than yours) to flick through on Flikr when you get home?
Researchers at the University of Illinois sampled two set of concert goers – asking the same set of questions to both groups: those who either took photos/video on their camera phone, and those who simply sat and watched the gig. Two months later, those who soaked it up device-free scored an 85% recall accuracy rate. Those who peered through their mobile screens scored, on average, only 50% accuracy.
So let’s put it another way – what do you want to remember from the weekend? Collective awe, oohs and ahs, or a million gormless faces, squinting into tiny backlit screens, squeezing every last drop out of a crappy, blocky digital zoom, with that dead-eyed, mouth-gaping, zoned-out expression you get when you see the world through Jobs’ eyes. Photography, as Telegraph columnist Nigel Farndale said recently, “once a noble art, has become, thanks to the move to digital, a mental illness.”
He’s not alone. The Guardian’s tech columnist rightly observes: “Instead of using technology such as camera phones to make our lives richer, freer and happier, we stand like lumps doing something socially irritating and existentially pointless, thereby ruining the view for everyone else.” We have become, he says, “snappers on autopilot, slaves to our machines, clogging up cyberspace with billions of images that nobody in their right minds – not even the person who sent them – thinks are worthwhile.”
At a Westlife gig last year (I was there in a professional capacity, honest) I think I was the only one in my cell, erm, I mean, block, that didn’t watch the concert through a camera screen. And it’s not as if these lads, or their fans, are in need of any more images, surely? The world has a surfeit, yes?
Fifty foot giants simply don’t fare well on an iPad camera. Nor on an iPhone zoom. They rob the occasion of its context, its majesty and its sheer, visceral power.
For Liverpool photographer, and sometime SevenStreets contributor Jane Macneil, the phenomenon became as fascinating as the visiting giants themselves.
“When they were walking down The Strand, they didn’t close off the opposite lane of traffic, so you were left with the amazing spectacle of cars, gridlocked, their drivers craning their heads out of the windows. But they weren’t looking directly at the Diver, they were simply aiming their camera phones to take a snap. I though that was really funny, and, as a photographer, a far richer subject matter to capture.”
You can see some of Jane’s images here.
It’s true that, thanks to camera phones, we’re all reporters, and the democratisation of the media is something SevenStreets is the first to defend. It’s why we’re here. It’s also true that technology might have enhanced our window on the world. But sometimes its windows, and its devices, can close down more than open up.
So go, enjoy the amazing spectacular. Be proud that this city still believes in magic.
But, remember. There’s no app that can beat just being there.
Images: Jane Macneil