The Nature of the Beast

We had just finished watching Lincoln. Being the out-of-touch slobs that we are, we were unaware if the movie had won any Oscars, or if, in fact, the Oscars had been cancelled in favor of a very special episode of The Bachelor. So I popped the iPhone in my hand and searched imdb for such information. It was while I was searching for a good reason why Tommy Lee Jones had not won a Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens that I suddenly realized that Laura had asked me to open the window. Ten minutes earlier.

We’ve all seen it and some of us have lived it: a couple in line waiting for a table, both of them on their smartphones in silence. We recently witnessed this phenomenon in a restaurant where the couple in question had a three-year-old daughter. The daughter was climbing and squirming on her Dad’s lap, touching the screen, blocking the screen, doing anything to get his attention, and I suddenly thought: it’s not going to be too long before we’re playing out the scenario in Wall-E where we’re all 400 pounds staring at screens every waking hour.

sherman-house fainberg-square

I love Instagram. It’s allowed me a creative outlet to post the pictures you see above. It’s motivated me to travel more, seek out new and more interesting things to photograph. I’ve met many interesting people and I’ve seen a great many interesting things from other people’s travels. But at the same time, it is a para-reality: whereas I know a certain amount about the people I’ve met in this community, I don’t really know them. I could, and perhaps have, walked directly past a person I’m following or who is following me.

Eventually, we have to come to the same conclusion: social media is no substitute for real people and real relationships. There is no sense in making social media, any social media, any more than it actually is. It has as much to do with our deepest selves as a billboard with our own face plastered on it. How else can you explain the hordes of tweens with nothing on their Instagram feeds but 950 pictures of themselves?

gulf-square mr-chicken-square

Who you callin’ Mr. Chicken?

Two things I take out of all this: one, I will continue to write this blog, post to Instagram, and bring you shots of my travels. We are fellow travelers on this journey, but those closest to me, my wife and family, are the most important and take precedence. In light of that, on weekends, I’ve decided to not post anything on Instagram and do my best to ignore the fact that I own an iPhone.

The second, no social media can beat actual human interaction. I would love to do an Instameet, having blown my chances previously. The previous two in my area have taken place in Bethlehem, at the Bethlehem Steel. What I propose in an Instameet is a mini-sign tour (and whatever else) in the historic section of Bethlehem. There are three good ones downtown within easy walking distance. In a perfect world, I would like to see if the Bethlehem Hotel is open to a neon magic hour shot on the roof. Who’s with me?


2 thoughts on “The Nature of the Beast”

  1. I’m with you on the balance between online-life and real-life-life, and it can be a struggle! I also try to monitor when Retro Roadhubs and I whip out our smartphones in the downtime that happens in everyday life, and try to make sure there isn’t something I’m really missing. Or on the flip side, if there’s nothing important on my phone, put the damned thing down!
    An instameet sounds like a fun idea, but our schedule is such that it’s hard to commit – but keep me in the loop!
    Mod Betty

    1. I heard a story on NPR a few months ago that fascinated me: a college professor who was an expert on social media talked about her studies and her experiences with her students. Essentially one of the things she learned (and I’m paraphrasing heavily) was that the current generation going to college today has lost something compared to previous generations: college was once a place to recreate yourself, to shed the high school scene. However, with social media’s prominence in these students’ lives, old friends and the old life follows them around wherever they go.

      The public life/private life aspect about social media fascinates me, too. Essentially, my Instagram account has built my public persona. I have over 1000 followers and I know (personally) about 15-20 of those followers. This is impossibly weird to me. But in some ways, this completely disproves what the college professor on NPR talked about. I’ve reinvented myself through this new media and met many like-minded people I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet before.

      The behavior I really need to stop is waking up in the middle of the night and checking my phone. I feel positively dirty after having done so, like I just kicked a puppy or something. I blame this on Catholic guilt, despite the fact that I’m not Catholic.

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