Say what you see, see what you say

Damien Mulley has a really interesting post this morning about how people are using multimedia devices and the net to capture, record and share their experiences. We’re seeing it more and more all the time; a breaking news story or simply an interesting observation can be captured and shared like never before. Terms like “citizen journalism” float around, whilst Sky News now ask us to supply amateur footage.

In Damien’s piece he points out that this level of almost ubiquitous connection can be a positive thing:

Maybe the positive with these tools is we are becoming more observational of our surroundings at times, because of these tools

This jumped out at me, because it is at odds with conventional, mainstream wisdom. I wrote only days ago about my fears that ever present WiFi was helping grow the phenomenon of having to be constantly connected. The way I thought about it, this was then a disconnection from ‘reality’. When we tune in, we drop out of our immediate surroundings. I also thought of Chris Ware’s haunting New Yorker cover, showing a neighbourhood of zombie like figues, gazing intently at their mobile devices. I think we all see how many people walk around now with their attention not at their surroundings but a tiny screen relaying information from elsewhere, beemed in.

But Damien’s take is refreshing. Could it be that with the ability to share our experience that we become more aware of our experience. With the boom in amateur photography thanks to cheap, but impressive technology are we seeing our environment in a new light? More and more people are taking and sharing their photos, and they are not just the obligatory ‘group shot in the pub’. Someone I was talking to on Twitter recently berated a new mini video camera for not having WiFi, so content could not be immediately shared. It occured to me then that we are moving towards a state where it is not enough to simply capture the moment, we want to share it too, and that is equally important.

Damien acknowledges that these tools also disconnect us, which is what I alluded to in my previous post. If we are just refreshing our inbox, or reacting to a digital stream (in a closed loop), we are less aware of our environment. These are the charges which are commonly made against these technologies. Although I also sometimes struggle with the idea of people who are constantly reporting on their surroundings on Twitter. I do indulge in it myself; during a football game or a live TV event, and it can be really rewarding to join in in a massive conversation. I also appreciate it when someone can report back with insights from a conference I cannot make (or a football match I cannot see). But I also sometimes wonder why people do it at other times. I see people talking about what they are doing in a pub or at a party. I’ve sent the obligatory Hipster-cam photo of my pint from time to time, but I find these places are for other types of communication (Neither is better or worse than the other, just different, and both have a time in our lives). It also brings to mind a Tommy Tiernan show I once saw where he berated a woman for taking a picture of him during the show, in which he alluded to people living their lives through a view screen.

But its really interesting to think that these devices can be seen to increase our connectivity with the real world, not decrease it. The more we begin to live in a world where we are reporting and reacting in real time, will we hone our senses to what is around us and effectively do the opposite of what many tech-bashers think would happen?

One to think about.

Another apt Ware cover: