Digital Narcissism and Physical Life

Watch this. It’s funny.

Did you enjoy that? I sure hope so! It’s a funny angle for Microsoft to be pitching their Windows Phone 7 handsets from, but it does sort of make sense, at least to me.

I was just reading a speech by funny-man and self-confessed Twitter addict Greg Stekelman, on the narcissistic implications of Twitter, which was ironically thrown my way, via Twitter. It’s a wonderful read, which makes you think about how social media, Twitter in particular, is affecting our behaviour. Stekelman himself admits to tweeting on buses about being on buses, and being very much detached from the physical world. This, I think, is where the above advertisement’s message comes in.

We all love attention, and we all crave it. It may be the main pull of social media, which is why we do things like Twitter, and tweet about how we’re, say, sipping tea at the foot of the Taj Mahal, or why we insist on putting up inordinate amounts of photos on Facebook of our holidays to Greece. We get it. Once you’ve seen one donkey, you’ve seen ’em all. Still, somewhere in this mad frenzy of social media production, we’ve forgotten about things like our families, our Tamagochis, and our dinner that’s burning to a crisp in the oven. That’s fine, though, because you can tweet about your dinner, and create a newfangled Facebook group in memory of how Skippy the Tamagochi filled up his digital cage with poop, and asphyxiated himself with his own faeces. Still, all that’s boring. Well, I’m sure it’s fine, really, but you can’t stop yourself from living your life because of it.

Stekelman, in his speech, talks about pre-tweeting. The act of tweeting in one’s own head, when you’re unable to actually tweet. It’s something we’re all guilty of, myself included. Still, it’s this media pre-production that can make us do stupid things, and stop us enjoying what’s literally in front of us, though some odd desire to document an event you’re experiencing so your following can experience whatever it is vicariously, through you, whether or not they want to.

Case in point. Last year, I went to see one of my favourite bands, Nine Inch Nails, on their farewell tour. Nine Inch Nails are great. I love them and their music a lot. Still, it seems to be that whenever I go to gigs these days, I always take a camera and snap away like a rabid tourist (when it’s allowed, of course) so I can upload these photos to Facebook, and prove to my friends that I attended a monumental show. In a way, this is good, because everyone who wasn’t able to attend the gig gets to experience it through my photographs, and they all think I’m very cool for sharing, and I get cool points, or whatever. The downside is that I have to experience the gig through the LCD screen on my camera, while I fiddle furiously with the manual settings to try and get a good shot of Trent Reznor’s beautiful face. All in all, documenting the gig in such a way had dampened my enjoyment somewhat. With this particular gig, it was weird. It was almost like I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand at all, but instead was experiencing a reproduction of the experience. It was a meta-experience. The result? Nine Inch Nails have now gone on hiatus, and I’m quite sad that I passed up the opportunity to go nuts in front of them, because of the prospect of digital props.

Learn from my mistakes people. Don’t let social media rule your life. As I’ve said many times in this blog, social media is a fantastic, wonderful thing, and I’m not knocking it. However, when it starts impacting on your physical life to the degree where you stop enjoying physical things, you have to do something about it.


NIN¦JA (with Mew, too!) – The O2 – 15/07/2009

I’m quite happy this morning. I’m sitting in front of my laptop, eating a peanut butter and jelly (jam sounds wrong) sandwich, wearing a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt. My right ear is still ringing, slightly, and one of my toes hurts, probably from when someone jumped on it last night. I saw Nine Inch Nails, Jane’s Addiction, and Mew, then. It was fantastic.

Being lucky enough to have secured a nin.com presale ticket, I was allowed into the auditorium easly, so was able to get quite (read: very) near the front. As I entered, Mew were just beginning their set. “Hi, we’re Mew,” the lead singer said sheepishly. I couldn’t help feeling like they were all little starstruck, despite them nearing the end of this gargantuan tour. “We’re from Copenhagen,” the singer revealed, quite innocently. Nonetheless, their set was great; an eclectic mix of rock, and possible hints of trip-hop. It was very much rock, with standard, hard hitting riffs, and solid bass licks, but it was haunting at times, also, in a Sigur Rós kind of way, probably because of the falsetto vocals which were delivered wonderfully.

They scuttled off, after a quick, “Thanks.” Bless them. Jane’s Addiction soon took to the stage. What struck me most about their performance, was the enormity of their stage presence. Perry Farrell, while having aged somewhat, sporting a new haircut, was perfectly at home running around the stage, hopping between monitors, and generally having what looked like a good time. Dave Navarro was also on top form. He looked like he was having as good a time as Farrell, while providing an impeccable, shred-tastic performance.

Their set played like any Jane’s Addiction ‘Greatest Hits’ record. Been Caught Stealing, Ocean Size, and Mountain Song were all there, but they were all played with energy, enthusiasm and sheer joy. You could tell they were all having a brilliant time on stage, and as a result, we, the audience, had a brilliant time watching them.

The lights came up once again, and strangely enough, the entire lighting rig dropped a few feet, and the stage was suddenly filled with keyboards. Soon, NIN took to the stage. By this point, the inevitable ‘crush’ one experiences at gigs, as soon as the main act appears, had started. The drums started pounding, Trent Reznor appeared, and the crowd went absolutely wild.

I can’t, for the life of me, remember what song they opened with. I only remember Mr Reznor throwing his guitar over his head, to the back of the stage, when it was over. I’ve never envisioned him as a violent man, but during his set, he continually knocked over keyboards and microphone stands. Not that this matters at all. Their set was wonderful, and these incidents only added to the chaotic dischord that was their set. They went from heavy songs, that got the crowd jumping up and down (also causing many squashed toes, I’d imagine), to much, much quieter songs, that had the crowd swaying, and waving their hands in the air. I didn’t know where they were going to go next, which was brilliant.

Trent had said prior to the tour that NIN’s performance would be something more organic, and less scripted than past tours, and he was right. In addition to the mind-bending chaos I’ve described above, the band had no hesitation about adding long, sweeping, maybe even improved break-downs to their songs. The Downward Spiral was a particular highlight, which spread a calm, blissful aura over the crowd, before starting the chaos again. As a band, and Reznor, as a producer and songwriter, is certainly a wizard of some kind. Their musical range is astounding, and they showcased this brilliantly with their set.

Reznor also had a couple of surprises in store. The first, was a David Bowie cover of ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’, which is no big surprise, as Reznor has actually remixed the song numerous times, citing that he listened to Bowie’s ‘Low’ album daily when recording ‘The Downward Spiral’. What really surprised me, though, was when he introduced Gary Numan (of ‘Cars‘ fame) and Reznor took a back seat, as the band rocked out to ‘Cars’ and other Numan favourites.

Their set ended with a small encore of ‘Hurt’, which was performed with the help of Robin Finck on acoustic guitar. It was a sombre and heartfelt performance. Indeed, Reznor has admitted he wrote his best material at a very low point at his life, and he was clearly affected when singing it.

The set, overall, was nothing short of eclectic. The band themselves, this time round, consisting of mainstay Robin Finck on guitar and keyboard, Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass and keyboard, and Ilan Rubin, formerly of Lostprophets fame, on drums (and possibly also keyboard). They’re certainly a multi-talented bunch, and this came across in their performance, being able to cope with multiple instruments and musical styles. It was a breath of fresh air from ordinary gigs, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to experience anything like it again.

Reznor has expressed already that he thought the current tour wasn’t a fitting way to say goodbye to NIN, so for now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another European farewell tour, and I urge any of you with any sort of interest in rock music at all to go and see it.