Last week in Chennai, I had my first experience of an AR Rahman concert. Given that I am a huge fan, I was looking forward to seeing him perform live along with his troupe of super-talented musicians. And Rahman did not disappoint, playing all his biggest hits and then some, with Hariharan and Sukhwinder coming on to do their bits.
State of confusion: Many musicians have complained that people are more engaged with their mobiles than the music during a performance. This is what happened at a recent A R Rahman concert
What intrigued me, though, were the people sitting around me. Instead of immersing themselves in the music, clapping in rhythm or even singing along - as keen concert-goers should do - they were all busy on their phones. Some were holding them aloft to take grainy pictures; others were recording (even grainier) videos; some were updating their BBM status to tell their extended social circle that they were watching Rahman LIVE; others were doing much the same on Facebook.
None of them were doing what they had presumably come here for: to listen to Rahman and his band play. They were so busy recording the event or telling other people that they were at it, that they had lost sight of the essential purpose of why they were here: to listen to a live performance.
Many musicians have complained about this cellphone nuisance, in which people are more engaged with their mobiles than the music during a performance. And some have even said that this new practice of everyone 'recording' what is going on actually takes away from the energy of the show. And given my own experiences of live music events, I have to agree.
But more than that, I can't help but wonder if this is not just another indicator of how we have lost the ability to live in the moment.
We can no longer just listen to a singer belt out his greatest hits. We are not content to hum along, clap in time, or even dance. No, even the event unfolds before us, we feel this compelling need to record it and then share it on social media to prove what interesting, fulfilling, fun-filled lives we lead. I can bet that none of the people recording the Rahman performance on their mobile devices will ever see (or hear) that clip again. The only time they will whip it out is when they need to tell someone else about how they were at this 'awesome' concert.
And it's not just music concerts alone. Even in movie theatres, people seem unable to succumb to a willing suspension of disbelief for a couple of hours. No, they must post their thoughts and mini-reviews on Twitter or Facebook even as the action unfolds; or at the very least, BBM or IM their friends to tell them how it's going. Thankfully, it is illegal to record a movie on a mobile device or else we would have to contend with the mobile-held-aloft syndrome in cinema halls as well.
But it is on holidays that our inability to live in the moment becomes most obvious. Instead of enjoying the sight of a riveting sunset, we are busy adjusting camera settings so that the redness of the sky can be faithfully captured for the family album. Rather than feast our eyes on the majesty of a tiger in the wild, we are struggling to frame him perfectly against that clump of trees. Instead of feeling the sea breeze in our hair, the warmth of sunshine on our backs, or the flakes of snow as they waft past our faces, and just enjoying the moment, we are so focused on recording it that we destroy its essential magic. In making sure we remember the moment, we fail to actually savour it.
Focussing on even the simplest thing seems to be beyond us these days. We cannot watch a TV debate without venting our outrage on Twitter. We cannot read a book without stopping to check the newsfeed on our phone. We cannot try a new recipe in the kitchen without posting a picture on our blog. We cannot eat in a restaurant without taking pictures of every dish so that we can share it on social media.
Oh well, you get the picture.
The only problem is that we don't. Or at least we don't see it for what it is. Instead, we are deluded enough to tell ourselves that all this flitting between stuff is a good thing. We pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that we are really great at multi-tasking. Oh, look, how clever I am! I can watch a TV show, check the latest news headlines on my laptop and tweet on the phone AT THE SAME TIME! Isn't that AMAZING?
Well, since you ask, it is anything but amazing. It is, in fact, a bit shaming that we cannot bring ourselves to commit to any one thing at any one time. It is, in fact, a sign of our ever-decreasing attention spans, a sad corollary of our frenetic lives in the age of hyper-connectivity. And it doesn't look as if it's going to get better any time soon.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, January 27
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