Monday, February 8, 2010

Did you see that?

Bob Greene posted an interesting piece about the impact of instant replay upon our experience of life, using yesterday's Super Bowl to make a larger point about today's media saturated experience. While his historical trajectory from television sports to video-centered weddings is a bit threadbare, Greene nonetheless spins a good yarn.

His article reminds readers of an era before the constant presence of the instant replay, when if you missed the field goal, you missed it. Then in 1963, he says, a CBS sports director used fledgling video tape technology to repeat a touchdown during a televised Army-Navy game. Greene recalls the announcer shouting, "This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!"

The article makes a broader point that instant replay helped foster the kinds of technology that dislocate us from reality, transforming time into a mutable prop. For Greene, "there is this nagging feeling that real life has been converted into a series of moments that are no longer expected to be here and gone, but instead are regarded as first run-throughs: performances that will be witnessed repeatedly, on demand." It's no surprise, I should add, that "On Demand" is the wave of our media future.

We live much of our lives as directors, aided especially by now-ubiquitous mobile phone technology. We establish shots, call action, crop excess, and loop meaning. Add the persistent scrutiny of security cameras and, as Greene notes, "you're on stage more constantly than Milton Berle or Lucille Ball ever were in the early days of television." [Of course, I'm even more amazed that readers under 20 may not even recognize those names.]

Watching yesterday's Super Bowl, amid the dawning awareness that the Saints would deploy gutsy plays to crush an opposing Colts team that had been widely favored to win, I observed much of Greene's argument in action. Lounging in my easy chair with an open laptop on my legs (my feet anchored by a heavy sleeping cat) I fiddled with Facebook, followed some trending news items, and read a few online articles I'd stored from the week. The Super Bowl was just another piece of stimulus.

The game was on - vivid on my flatscreen and pumping through the speakers - but I watched with little intensity. Heck, with the amount of times I used DVR to rewatch an interesting commercial, I often sought the reassurance of my clicker's "Live" button to confirm my in-sync status with the world. And even then, the experience was remote.

Bob Greene is right. The control we get from these devices, the on-demand reality they convey, is fleeting at best.

Read the entire piece: Curse of the Instant Replay

No comments: