Have you seen the video of the orchestral flash mob in the Copenhagen metro? A couple of months ago the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra surprised a car full of passengers by setting up shop in the metro and performing Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” right there in the train. The video is not even two-and-a-half minutes long, so give it a watch.
Let me tell you why I find this a fascinating video. It begins with a crowd of people cramming into a metro car, just like they do every morning and evening, completely unaware that this ride will be different. A lot of them are plugged in to iPods or other devices, but as the orchestra begins to play, the headphones come off. Moments ago this was a train full of individuals lost in their own little media worlds, but in an instant it becomes a community joined together by their shared experience of this music. Each one of them instinctively knows that what they have the opportunity to experience here and now is better than what they may experience over their headphones or on their screens. Headphones are pulled off, blank stares are replaced by smiles. There is an immediate transformation.
But then something else happens. Many of those who turned off their music now exchange it for their video cameras. The device that pumped out music now captures video. They perceive that they are experiencing something remarkable and with the click of a few buttons they begin to record it. It seems unremarkable today; it is the expected action—you grab your phone and starting recording video.
But why? Why would they record this performance? They have an opportunity here to enjoy something entirely unique and something uniquely beautiful, but so many of them get only half of the experience because they now become reporters instead of an audience. My guess is that many of them don’t even have a conscious thought about what they are doing; they record it because that is just what we do today. We have trained ourselves to respond to great experiences by making sure we digitize them. If we can’t post it to Facebook and YouTube, if we can’t give evidence of what we’ve experienced, it’s like we haven’t experienced it at all.
This is not a new predicament, of course. For as long as we have had easy access to cameras and then to video cameras we have been torn between enjoying a moment and recording a moment. It’s difficult to do both in equal measure. Many a father has returned home from a visit to the mountains having experienced the whole vacation with one eye closed and the other eye peering through a tiny little rectangle. Today the sheer ubiquity of cameras has escalated this problem. Almost every one of us now has a pocket-sized camera and video camera in our pocket or purse at all times. Comedian Jim Gaffigan pokes fun at himself saying, “I have more pictures of my kids than my father ever looked at me.”
What we are seeing in this strange, new digital world is that we increasingly believe that we need to supplement memory with bits and bytes. It is not enough to enjoy a beautiful experience and allow our minds to replay it for months and years to come, but we now need audio/visual evidence. But why? Why can’t we just allow our minds to record it, and rely on our brains to relive the pleasure of the moment? Whatever happened to that organic kind of memory? Why do we believe that a digital memory is inherently better?
I wonder how many beautiful moments we miss because we are afraid we will miss them. Instead of living fully in the moment, enjoying the music or the sunrise or the games with our children, we fall into this strange habit of recording it all. We experience the sunrise through the lens of an iPhone instead of just basking in it, we tinker with focus and angles recording quality instead of just enjoying the music. When all is said and done, we’ve recorded an experience that we missed out on, and the replay is just never as good.
We need to stop believing that everything worth experiencing is worth recording. There’s nothing wrong with taking pictures and shooting video—of course there’s not!—but in all our clicking and in all our capturing, let’s make sure that we’re not missing out on life’s best experiences. Let’s learn to enjoy the moment. Give me one beautiful moment fully lived and fully enjoyed and I will trade it for a hundred moments where my phone stood between me and the source of that beauty.