Stop Saying Phones Mean Not “Living In The Moment”


Ian MacKaye of Fugazi fame gave a talk at the Library of Congress last night and touted this now quite common argument,

I think that people are constantly thinking about capturing things that they’re not actually present for the moment they’re trying to capture. I’m quite sure of this. I think it’s insane how many pictures have to be taken these days. We have to realize there’s a level of documentation that’s just chatter, it’s noise

Confession: I’ve come close to making this argument before (I asked, not asserted it), but I’m increasingly disagreeing with it. First, as was rightly pointed out to me here, documenting experience isn’t anti-experience, it is different experience. It is not a removal from the moment but a different sort of immersion, one that can be critiqued or praised, but shouldn’t be mis-identified as “not in the moment.” 

There is a dangerous sort of moralizing at play here, your documentation is “chatter” and “noise” and I am the worthy arbiter of that. Ian’s prolific documentation (as discussed in the article) is worthy, yours, supposedly, is noise.

{Aside: hey Ian, “insane” is a particularly offensive way to express your disqualification here, too. It trivializes mental illness.}

There’s much to be said about the proliferation of documentation from more and less critical perspectives, but let’s not treat it as a pathology, and let’s certainly be very skeptical of people who are so comfortable to rank whose (and what) documentation is worthy.

As things go with me, I think this has much to do with the digitally dualist impulse to see life mediated by digitality as less worthy, human, and real. What is mere “chatter” and “noise” to some is communication, voice, identity, and expression for others. 

This is just one more move in the long history of ranking certain ways of communicating as more and less worthy. Your experience of this moment is “chatter”, your rap isn’t music, your graffiti isn’t art, your tweets aren’t “real” communication, your selfie is deranged narcissism but writing my thoughts on paper is healthy—this sort of subjugation and disqualification isn’t new.

Yes, it’s a bit unfair to single Ian out because this is a very common sentiment, but it’s one I think we should question a bit more often. Let’s be more careful when we say people are not living in the moment, which doesn’t just critique their experience, but disqualifies it as not existing. Should we be in the business of ranking whose experience gets to count as such? Or which is more valuable, worthy, creative? And who gets to be such an arbiter? 

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    There is a dangerous sort of moralizing at play here, your documentation is “chatter” and “noise” and I am the worthy...
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