Saturday 22 September 2018

Another Angle: For the love of God, put down the phones

The arrival of Pope Francis in Croke Park was a case of enjoying the moment, not living it through a smartphone lens
The arrival of Pope Francis in Croke Park was a case of enjoying the moment, not living it through a smartphone lens
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

I screamed at the TV: "JUST PUT THE PHONE DOWN! HE'S RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU!"

The television pictures showed a woman in the Croke Park crowd reaching out to shake the Pope's hand. He obliged, smiling.

But she didn't actually see him or his hand, despite clasping it. Instead, she was fixated on the phone in her other hand, which seemed to be filming the whole thing.

In a second, he was gone. And she had never taken her eyes off the phone.

The lady looked to be in her forties or fifties. Presumably, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for her to shake a Pope's hand.

And she totally missed it.

In place of a memory of a Pope in front of her, she probably has a few seconds of shaky, dull, badly lit phone footage.

She wasn't alone. The RTÉ footage of the Pope cruising around Croke Park showed person after person in the crowd not looking at the Pope at all, but at their crappy smartphones held high in the air.

Few of them were young people: almost all looked to be over 45.

It seemed that only the oldest pensioners, kids and the ground staff actually saw the man. The rest of the crowd witnessed only TV reproduction of the pope on a sea of five-inch mini-tellies, despite him being just a few feet away.

I get why people do this. I've done it myself. "Wouldn't it be amazing to get a photo or a few seconds of video of this famous person?" Or "wait til my friends see what I saw!"

Maybe I've just getting old. But my experience of photographing things on phones for almost 20 years has taught me one overarching lesson: most of the photos are crap.

The video footage tends to be even worse.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not one to tell people how to enjoy themselves.

I usually detest pompous preaching around technology, phones and social media (both from Luddites and from hypocrites who use the technology themselves but sneer at others doing likewise).

I also think I have a fairly consistent record on this through the years, from challenging radio hosts who repeat simpleton mantras such as "Facebook friends can't be your real friends" to pushing back on pitchfork public campaigns that call for a ban on smartphones or a state 'register' for those with internet-enabled phones.

So I've never been a fan of screaming, hysterical narratives that play to uninformed, ignorant fears.

But sometimes, even I snap.

And I'll admit that this kind of thing gets me going.

There is something idiotic about people at a concert spending more time fiddling with settings, and staring at their phone, than savouring their favourite song from their favourite band.

I've seen this happen so, so much: you pay €85 (a standard concert ticket price these days) to see the singer you've always adored. You hear the first chords of that one immortal tune starting up.

You rush to take out your phone, unlock it ("damn, why won't it unlock?"), try to find the camera app icon, press the wrong icon, exit out of that app, find the correct camera icon, navigate to video, hold the camera up, realise that the angle is wrong, adjust the angle, pinch it a bit to zoom in, hit record, realise that it's a bit too dark, tap the screen to try and bring up the light control, scroll up to make it lighter (this takes several attempts), look at it again, realise that it's not turning out very well, stop the recording, go to the photo mode, take a pic, realise that the flash is on and that it illuminated the guy's head in front of you instead, go to camera settings, fumble to try and find the flash on-off setting, turn the flash off, hold the phone up again but accidentally hit the phone's standby button, try to unlock the phone with your fingerprint but it won't because you thumb is wet from beer, input the unlock code instead, navigate back to the camera app, take a photo.

In the time you've taken to do this, the first two minutes and 20 seconds of the four-minute song have passed by. You've missed the key solo, too. Or rather, you heard it in the background while you were focusing on getting your phone settings right.

Still, it was worth it right? You're going to have an amazing memento to share with friends. Except, when you look back at the video footage and the photo, they're mediocre. They appear only to show a bunch of coloured lights. It could be any concert anywhere. The audio on the video, in particular, is terrible. So you don't post it. Still, next time you'll nail it with that new phone you're getting this Christmas...

Once again, I don't mean to come across as some sort of judgey prig.

Believe me, I fully understand the layers of social utility behind a photo or a video.

Sometimes it's not just to keep as a vivid memory, but it is something that might be used to connect to other people, to share and communicate. What loudmouth moralists refer to as a "narcissist generation" is often far more subtle and nuanced, sometimes helping to stimulate social activity that a person struggles to find elsewhere.

If a photo or video of a concert does this, more power to you.

But I wonder if that's what's happening at all. It seems that most of us believe we'll have an enhanced experience if we record an event. In practice, I'm starting to think that this is usually not the case.

I also wonder whether it's not older, middle-aged people who are the most deluded here. Younger people appear to have much more natural control over how and when they use their phones. It's on their own terms. Are older people still a bit dazzled (as well as befuddled) by it all?

I don't know. But I know that that lady missed her one chance to see the Pope. And I'm betting that all she has instead is a useless few seconds of blurry video.

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