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On Fearing Experiences That Are Not Added To The Statistical Algorithms Of The Collective Consciousness

“Ohmigod THANK GOD you brought your camera I just have like a HUGE favor to ask! Can you video the show and then email it to me?! Like tonight? Like as soon as you get home? Promise? Thank you SO MUCH!”

Doing stand-up comedy at college brings a fleet of people into your life who want the dream. People just like you, only they choose to be louder about it.

But maybe they don’t choose.

Maybe they can’t help it. And I don’t mean that they “can’t help it” in the sense that it is like eating a sleeve of Oreos on the way home from the gym – a bad habit of theirs that they have been meaning to kick – but that America’s environment of achievement-based attention via technology has been around just long enough to form a modern young person’s very being from Second One.

Getting ready for these comedy shows, as inconsequential as nobody realizes that they are until several years later, is fifty percent nerves and joke-related and fifty percent technology-related. Everybody has a designated friend planted in the audience to take photos and/or video from the best available angle. If anything racist or even kind of bad happens on that stage that fateful night during the Kooky University Komedy basement show, there would be enough film of it from all different angles to cut together a sweeping fast-cut-filled montage worthy of a Bruckheimer movie trailer or a Kennedy Center Honors clip package or a .gif, whichever is more popular that week.

Everybody has been posting regularly every sixteen hours on Facebook leading up to the show to get the word out. The event page has been scanned nervously throughout the day by each performer to keep tabs on who said that they are coming and, most importantly, who said that they are not coming so that they know who to glare at next time they stroll through the student union. So they can know who is not acknowledging their accomplishments that they have been convinced are important and will give them even more chances – say a magazine spread or an awards show, even – to have their existence realized by more.

Young comedians are constantly being told that all we need to do is make things and get them out there and that that alone will make us successful. “Make things” is a paraphrase of the last few sentences of every single episode of every single comedy interview podcast ever recorded. So if we are making things, like a seven-minute stand-up comedy set (which consists mostly of material about Tom Hanks and fear of groups of other girls in my case), but we don’t follow through with Part Two of the advice to “put it out there”, does it really matter? Should I have even tried to do well in a stand-up show that was not supported by one or more iPhone cameras switched to the “video” function? Why would I have agreed to do a show in the first place if I was not implicitly promised that it would be recorded and available for me to embed on my Tumblr? Because, according to what every current successful comedy writer says in my earbuds at night while I drift to sleep, I need to “get it out there”. I mean, I should never waste my precious youthful time with something that might not get seen by Judd Apatow like in those ridiculous success storied you hear on Oprah all the time. Efficiency is everything, right?

This fear is real and absurd, and I thank the Universe that creativity and performing are far too important and ingrained in me to be permanently clouded by these things. I see it around me all the time, though, and I’m not going to say that the above paragraph doesn’t whiz through my head for a few gut-wrenching minutes on a monthly basis.

As I write this in 2013, modern photography is an enzyme that eats up our society’s fears and contemplations that pop up when we consider our smallness positioned inside of the unimaginable vastness of the universe. The consideration of existentialism is thwarted once again when a young mother posts a photo of her son’s first haircut on Instagram and receives eighteen “likes”. It will be thwarted, still, in fifty-three years when she is looking through a photo album and spots that very photo, letting her know that, yes, the memory that has been firing in her mind with no proof of its occurrence except for the very neuropaths that first motored it along did definitely happen.

The panopticon goes fractal.

The panopticon goes fractal.

This new existentialism is no less tortured than any incarnation that came before it. The most current American achievement mindset is powered, fueled, and one hundred percent funded by the blurriness of the line between actual existence and simple records of it. Take a look at all of the exclamation points that come along with Facebook photo albums posted from students’ study abroad trips. They are born out of desperation and rewarded with the acknowledgement from others that silently scream these experiences have indeed been experienced!

When I’m out with friends and one of them has not brought along their camera, I think, “what a bad ass.” If it’s a guy, that alone will attract me to them. Not constantly having a camera to capture proof that one has friends is the new leather jacket. I think to myself, “If there is anything in this generation that is close to a motorcycle-riding James Dean character, it’s this guy who ordered a cool-looking cocktail and is just drinking it to drink it, goddammit.” I sigh adoringly.

I am constantly told to appreciate this moment. To appreciate college. To appreciate these beautiful rolling hills that are currently surrounding me on this study abroad trip to New Zealand. And yet, I am doing the opposite. I am fearing. Constantly fearing. That I’d better appreciate it! I’d better bring my expensive digital camera on this dangerous kayaking trip because what if we see dolphins and I don’t get that image saved somehow and then would it even matter if I saw them? These fears swirl like a cyclone and I never ever ever really appreciate anything. Until, of course, it is over. That’s when the nostalgia pangs start. And even more severely, the scrapbooking.

In the mindset of the majority of young Americans there is no difference between photograph-proved existence and existence itself. If Facebook suffers a glitch and as a result every single photo of somebody holding a microphone in a college performance hall is deleted, the occurrence of which is as simple as a few programmers feeling like backpacking through Europe instead of going to work one impulsive week, there will be cyclones upon cyclones of void-trudging in studio  apartments everywhere.

It will be good for everybody.

When you scratch the abyss, the abyss scratches back at you.

When you scratch the abyss, the abyss scratches back at you.

Categories: 2013 Winter Writing Contest, Communications & Media Studies, Pop Culture, Psychology, Uncategorized.

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8 Responses

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd2sRC3K9Hs

    Louis CK: Every single person was blocking their vision of their actual child with their phone, and the kids– I went over by the stage and the kids– there’s people holding iPads in front of their faces. It looked like we’re all in the witness protection program. Like, the kids can’t see their parents, and everybody’s watching a shitty movie Of something that’s happening ten feet. Like, look at your fucking kid. The resolution on the kid is unbelievable if you just look. It’s totally HD.

    ———-

    Leela: Fry, you’re wasting your life sitting in front of that TV. You need to get out and see the world.
    Fry: But this is HDTV. It’s got better resolution than the real world.

    Whom to believe? I’m gonna go with Fry.

    Good post, and youre making a point with which I share a lot of sympathy.

  2. This turned into an excellent post, great work!

    Feedback is such a tricky thing, we naturally want and in many ways need to gauge what we are doing through the eyes of others, but it can quickly go from healthy monitoring to self destructive neurosis. I think the place to draw the line is what change will the feedback help me achieve? If it’s just to feel good or bad about myself, that’s worthless and I’ve gone too far. If it’s to learn what actions or thoughts of mine are more or less effective, that’s the sweet spot.

  3. Agreed. Awesome post. 2 things:

    1. Though I tend to think the stoics are on to something by locating reality, or the meaningful interpretation of it, between the ears, this has a ton to do with the physical objects of technology. The smartphone as a device that gets overlaid onto all experience is the viral cell. It seems to be pretty much seeking for new contexts to dominate. I’ve recently seen webcomics and stuff about wacky, supposedly relatable mishaps of smartphone use while using the toilet. Evacuating bodily waste has been around forever, and toilets have been around for a few centuries, using that time as a recreational escape has been around since the invention of the crossword/reader’s digest, but using it as a communications centre is new. It’s kind of startling, until you figure that smartphones are pretty much media syringes, and where is a more natural place to shoot up than in the lavatory?

    2. In relation to Fabius’s point about the simulation being more real than reality, I’m really sympathetic to that too, but this isn’t just about the subjective experience of consumption. It’s also about the subjective experience of being recognized as having consumed it. Think about the example of Asian tourists on whirlwind bus tours of Europe. They’ll do 16 hour days and hit 2-3 cities or attractions per day. And time not spent shopping is experienced through a camera, just like Louis CK’s parents in the auditorium. Imagine when they get back and show their friends and family pictures of the Eifel Tower and Neuschwannstein. The relatives are really impressed and ask “Wow. That’s amazing. You were really there?” rhetorically, but the question might not be taken as rhetorical. “Was I really there? Did I actually see that? Can I remember that experience? Did I take anything from it?” In many cases the answer will be ‘No’, but that won’t necessarily matter, because in many cases they didn’t go for Europe; they went for the ‘Wow. That’s amazing.’ It’s like buying an inadequate meal at a hot restaurant or crappy clothes with prominent branding. The attraction isn’t the simulated thing, as much as the recognition of being associated with that sign. The parents in the auditorium aren’t motivated by the resolution of the screen as much as the logo on the device and the Facebook comments (but maybe a little by the virtualization of their spawn).

  4. Pics or it didn’t happen: truly, we have lost trust in one another’s experience.

  5. further examples: have you truly read a book until you have rated it on goodreads? have you seen a movie until you have liked it on facebook?

    And are you already thinking about the rating that youre gonna give the book on goodreads before you are finished? in other words, have means and ends changed places? the horse before the cart? …another case of the self-perpetuationies!

    yeah, in case you cant tell, i like your post a lot ;)

  6. Careful, Frugal. You’re about to start a very heated debate about the Wembley Goal. You think the EU will stop World War II (II) from happening? Well, you might have just found the way to disprove that.

    Now where did I put those Stukas?

  7. Jorge CuestaJuly 20, 2013 @ 5:16 am

    truly, nothing destroys like phtographing: it annihilates reality instead of preserving it, it immobilizes and exhausts when it attempts to rescue it from oblivion and transience. the sense of the world is found in walking, in movement, in change: it was made only to slide in irrecoverable instants, to be born and die in the blink of an eye. in its place photography, facile remedy of memory, is paralyzed; formed from unsatisfied needs, it doesn’t resuscitate anyone. like love, from its beginning it is doomed to fail. its a pity i discovered this so late; now, though i know it’s useless, that through it i condemn myself, i’m unable to avoid it

Got insight?