October 6th, 2011

Why exactly did people take Steve Jobs’s death so hard? I don’t much care to argue over whether or not this was the appropriate feeling to have, or whether another death was more deserving of this emotion. The fact remains, they did. The easy answer: Steve Jobs was a Great Man whose influence over contemporary culture is virtually inescapable. Through brute force alone, and pressure exerted by the world around us, the heart responds. I wonder, though, if it doesn’t have to do with the nature of Apple products. The iPod’s triumph—and to some degree, that of the snazzy Mac before it and the nascent iPad since—was to create a singular, personal space by means of a technological vessel. This effect was transitive, if backward; the metal and plastic were imbued with the memories and associations that music, in digital, context-less form, bundled up in one place. Those were the rules of the game, the order of things, and they were embodied in the device—stylish, elliptical, and slightly frivolous—that made this sound-space possible.

It makes perfect sense that Jobs himself would be, so to speak, taken personally. He was the one who allowed them to live more fully through technology. They created this version of Apple and its leader, but without the cues provided by technology, it wouldn’t have happened. Are we happy? Thank Steve Jobs. Does technology render us that powerless when it comes to matters of lifestyle and identity? Then thank Steve Jobs for that, too, out of a fealty that should leave an odd, acrid taste our mouths. Even if you’ve never owned Apple once. He’s gotten to you somehow. 

June 16th, 2011

Very soon, sez The Sun, it may be impossible for iPhone users to record (but maybe not just photograph) a show. Chris Weingarten called it “the best news I’ve heard all day.”

Admittedly, there’s something deeply obnoxious, if not sinister, about the sea of smart phones that has become as much a part of the audience as the audience itself. The rapidly aging man in me wonders why (I think I’ve said this elsewhere) the kids today need performance mediated in this way. Apple’s move is about rights, promoters, and broadcast, but it’s also a quality of life measure for some concert-goers. If some people so badly need to experience live music via device—whether watching it on a screen, getting off on the idea of watching it later, or watching themselves watch it—it lends an air of detachment, even displacement, to shows.

Note: I never go to them anymore, which is why, when I do, or when I see this happening in footage, I find it all the more unsettling.

At the same time, documentation does imply that something significant is happening. I’m taping this show? Wow, it must be really worth taping. It’s circular, but at the same time, the public record, and our own memories, are often functions of what happens to have been preserved. Capturing any and every show seems to say “fuck it, everything is great and beautiful and important and I am totally stoked just to be here!” That is probably a healthy, if foolhardy, relationship to have with the world; it certainly leads to a more complete public archive of, say, a band’s performances (or, individually, one’s own life). Everything is great! Every minute is worth living and believing in!

For those of us who fall on the other, fussier end of this spectrum, the brave labors of compulsive documenters make for a better selection of material from which to cull. Curating, and criticism, open up like never before. Yet it’s the “compulsive” aspect of it that’s so troubling.

Completism in itself is not a bad impulse. At some point, though, the world of the compulsive documenter falls away, and the act of documentation becomes more important than its substance. What matters is the recording “I”, and that “I” is essentially bathing in its own self-regard. The space between brain and technology overrides that between technology and performance. “Watching themselves watch it” is bad enough, but when this activity, or taking a shit-ton of photos, just becomes a way of asserting and insisting upon one’s ego through the production of digital files, the audience hasn’t merely made itself into the focal point. It’s ceased to be an audience at all.