Eleven years ago, I attended a Switchfoot concert in Pasig City as part of their Hello Hurricane Tour. It was their second time in the Philippines, but it was my first time seeing them live. Even though I still didn’t know many of their songs then, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it is in fact, one of the most special ones I’ve ever attended. Aside from the great tunes they performed and the positive atmosphere it had, there was this moment that happened that made the night even more memorable. At one point, vocalist Jon Foreman requested the tech guys to turn down all the lights (even the spotlight on him) and asked the audience to take a picture at the same time. I obliged because I wanted to be part of it, and at the same time have a souvenir of this slice of time, which I felt was going to be extra special. However, I encountered a bit of a difficulty with my camera, and so my attention was directed to it instead of what was happening around me. Eventually, I got the camera to work, and I was able to see what Jon wanted to witness: a scene that resembled a night sky dotted with flickering stars. My companion at the time who wasn’t really into Switchfoot saw everything as she just sat in her seat unbothered, and as a matter of factly she said: “Well, that was nice.” It did look beautiful, and I regretted immediately that I participated in it. Why? Because I got to see only a part of the event. The picture did not turn out ok either, and honestly, I can’t remember where it is now. I was part of that moment, yes, yet I was not able to experience it fully because I was busy attempting to capture it. Later on, when they sang one of my favorite songs, Dare You to Move, I decided not to take any photo nor record it. Instead, I decided to sing along with them, be with them, and absorb the moment totally. I decided to be.
This is definitely not the case for many especially nowadays, though. As technology becomes more and more advanced, and the urge to share practically everything on social media is ever present, taking pictures and videos at concerts is now the norm. The moment the general lighting is dimmed, camera flashes will start to go off and the lit screens of smart phones will fill the venue. It’s only natural for people to want to capture these joyous moments forever; after all, events such as these don’t happen quite often. However, for some people, capturing moments of the concert has now become the priority, and enjoying it comes only in second.
The experience I had at Switchfoot’s concert doesn’t happen to me often. Taking photos or recording songs isn’t really a huge part of concerts for me. If I am with somebody, I would take a few pictures, and then just rely on their shots than to be the one to take them. If I’m all by myself, around 15 shots would already be enough, and as for recording songs, I rarely ever do it. I just find recording or taking photos during shows bothersome, so if I could limit the number of times I raise my arms to find a good angle to capture the scene, I would. Besides, I know how extremely annoying and frustrating it is to attend concerts where countless smart phones block the faces of the artists and to watch full songs performed in screens in front of me, so I don’t want to be cause of another person’s irritation.
I guess I can attribute my comparative lack of enthusiasm when it comes to taking photos at shows to my early days of attending gigs and concerts. I started watching them when cellphones were already around but not ubiquitous nor ultra-high tech yet. Cellphones mainly were tools of communication then, not something that could record life events. Of course, there were real cameras, but many big concerts prohibited them inside venues, anyway. So, I was forced to simply be at concerts, and that is why the habit of recording was really not cultivated. I don’t have proof that I went to all of the gigs and shows I did go to (during the early years) except say for some ticket stubs. That’s it. Even if that’s the case, they remain to be unforgettable.
Just to clarify: I’m not saying that people shouldn’t record these events, but at least they should try to refrain from recording too much. What’s “too much”? I don’t know, maybe like for an entire performance of a song, they have 10 or so shots of it? Or even video recording each song—or worse, the entire concert? Go to YouTube and one can easily find tons of complete fan recordings of an entire show! A part of me is actually frustrated at these kinds of people especially those who are located near the stage because they’ve got an excellent spot—they’re nearer to the action, the energy—yet because they want to have a clear recording of what’s happening on stage, they just stand there motionlessly, focused on capturing good digital souvenirs instead. Some may be livelier than others and move or jump around (still with their phones in their hands, of course) but they inconsiderately block the views of those people who went there to watch the show in person and not via a tablet.
Many artists have also expressed similar sentiments about the use of phones during their shows, and some, such as Jack White and Alicia Keys, have even gone to the extent of banning the use of these devices, requiring the audience instead to use Yondr, a digital pouch where a concert goer can store her or his cell phone in and access it only when she/he goes to a designated location that allows its use. The move is definitely restrictive, and as expected, concert goers are hugely divided on this issue. For some, they approve of it because they get to experience everything fully; for others, they think this move just goes to show how egotistical artists are, wanting only the attention all to themselves.
There was a beautiful tweet written by Japanese-American artist Mitski, which she posted back in February 24 about phones at shows. It was both a reflection of a common sentiment shared by many artists these days and a gentle invitation to her audience to be more present, to share with her a special moment. I will be sharing an excerpt of that tweet, which, unfortunately, has been deleted since.
A note from Mitski:
Hello! I wanted to speak with you about phones at shows. They’re part of our reality. I have mine on me all the time, and I’m not against taking photos at shows (Though please no flash lol) But sometimes when I see people filming entire songs or whole sets, it makes me feel as though we are not here together. This goes for both when I’m on stage, and when I’m an audience member at shows. I love shows for the feeling of connection, of sharing a dream, and remembering that we have a brief miraculous moment of being alive at the same time, before we part ways. I feel I’m part of something bigger. When I’m on stage and look to you but you are gazing into a screen, it makes me feel as though those of us on stage are being taken from and consumed as content, instead of getting to share a moment with you. Ultimately it’s your night, and I want you to enjoy it as you like. I don’t want to be greedy, I’m fortunate to get to play! Just putting out there that sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can experience magic at a show. But only if we’re there to catch it.
But only if we’re there to catch it—this is my favorite part of her note, and I couldn’t agree with her more. People may have loads of photos and recordings of a show to prove that they were there, but were they really? When done too much, people disengage from the moment and become mere observers of what’s unfolding in front of them. Yes, photos can help in reliving that particular moment later on, but some studies have shown that taking too many photos of an event, especially when done without much care, can actually make the brain forget it.
The next time you’re at a show, click away as often as you’d like, but just keep in mind the words of Mitski and even Jon Foreman himself:
In spite of our best attempts to capture these moments and save them for later, joy can only happen in the present tense. The euphoria of the now cannot be taken prisoner — it is only available to us in this one instance alone and then it is gone.
[…] Yes, the joys that we experience in the present are beautiful and certainly worth holding onto. But if recording is the art of forgetting, then maybe the art of life is found in your present attention to the moment. Maybe you and I are the painting, the poem, the tape machine. Waves of light and sound wash over us, and our canvas responds with actions of our own: Experiencing this joy and giving it away. So take pictures of the waves of color sweeping over you. Write it down. Record the moment as best you can. But know that these waves can never be fully tamed by the pen, or the lens or the tape machine. No, the waves that break on your shores cannot be captured by human hands, but they beckon us to come out to the deep waters and ride them.
P.S. Jon Foreman has written a handful of other blogs for Huffington Post. Check them out here.