Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's Happened To The Present Tense?

A couple of days ago Amy and I were crossing 14th Street at Seventh Avenue in Manhattan when a modern-day rickshaw driver — ie., a dude on a bike dragging a coach — flew past us through the intersection.  It was nine o'clock or so, warm out, the block was buzzing, the vibe was good, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  And nothing was out of the ordinary: the couple in the coach was grinning, and the woman was recording it all on her iPad.

You Now or "You Now"?
The sight was funny, and somewhat startling, still.  Here was a woman being ferried down Seventh Avenue, vaulting out of Chelsea into the West Village on a night full of bright lights and honks and raucous cheer, and she was holding her iPad at arm's length as if she were reading a book and had forgotten her glasses.  She was recording the moments for posterity, to watch and share later, maybe with friends and family back home hundreds of miles away, maybe with friends and family back home a few bocks away.  She was clearly loving the technological indulgence, the opportunity to record in high definition a barreling careen down a wide avenue in a legendary city, framing her night's good times.  She was laughing out loud, so was her partner.

What's happened to the present tense?  Hardly a new question, I acknowledge.  Since behemoth cameras a hundred years ago began freezing older generations in grimly-smiling poses and more recently the portable moving camera began documenting the family trip to Disney World, some have wondered about the growing disconnect between the moment as lived and the moment as recorded.  What's remarkable now (if increasingly unremarkable to note) is the array of choices that we have in recording the present, the ease and immediacy with which we can document our now and play back our past into our present.  OK, I'll bite: what was that woman experiencing?  The ride, or the compulsion to record?  Both!  But I insist that multi-tasking is a myth concocted by the telecommunications industry.  Read, talk, drive, text, listen: something has to give.  No different with the woman flying through the intersection: she lives; she records; something gives.

Fearing hopeless and tiresome Luddite-ity, I'll acknowledge that this is the New Present.  A redefined present, one that has lost a share of its personal value if not rewound, stored, shared, uploaded.  Be present, press record.  Play back.  And that's fine: we all want a record of what we've seen, of where we've been, to cherish later, to divide or multiply with the algorithm of nostalgia.  But that woman looked pretty ludicrous bouncing in the seat of that creaky, bicycle-drawn carriage holding her iPad out in front of her like a kind of transparent shield, yielding but deflecting.  At least, I wanted to say, press record and look up.


At a show I'll hold up my iPhone, snap a pic (I don't want to miss this), look down, scroll, nod, frown at the poor flash, compare.  What'd I miss?

iPad image via Alexia.


The Hound said...

shit, what kind of town to we live in where people have to drive rickshaws for a living?

Joe Bonomo said...

And to my visitor's eyes it looks like the nod-off's are back in Union Square. Maybe they never left.