KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
Ilike to see things with my own eyes. I could never be accused of being widely travelled, but when I have been lucky enough to encounter some of the world’s wonders, I have always made a point of seeing them without any sort of filter. caught my first glimpse of the Hollywood sign from the window of a car; I immediately whipped off my sunglasses and rolled down the window. In Sydney last month, I instructed The Sister to steer me into a favourable viewing position while my eyes were still closed, before I opened them with the Opera House right in front of me (the Opera House and a parked van, as it happened; The Sister and I really need to discuss the meaning of ‘favourable viewing positions’).
But it seems I am a dying breed. On Christmas Eve, in the airport lounge with the huge windows, I saw the plane carrying The Brother home from Saudi land on a distant runway, then – to our mounting excitement – watched it come to a full stop right in front of our window and stairs pull up to its door. My sister-inlaw, meanwhile – even more excited at the prospect of seeing her husband for the first time in months – sat beside me and watched the entire small drama develop on an app on her phone. Seriously. It was Right There. And yet she kept me fully updated on the progress of a moving dot on a small screen.
It’s not her, it’s me. Every time I go to a gig, I am astonished at the number of people – the vast majority, in fact – who watch proceedings on their phones or tablets. I have seen parents witness their children’s milestone moments through Perspex. When we witness traffic accidents, our first instinct now is not to phone an ambulance, but to record the aftermath. At Electric Picnic, where everybody pretends to be a hippie and free, the single biggest queue was always at the phone charging tent, while I was happy – relieved, even – to let mine die an undisturbed, dignified death. In Australia, I just couldn’t quite believe how many people viewed the iconic sights only through screens. Don’t get me started on selfie sticks – suffice to say that aside from a fleeting glimpse of a bouncing kangaroo (well, there are some sights that just have to be recorded), the only video I took Down Under was of a bunch of people industriously photographing themselves with the aid of those preposterous devices, while the breathtakingly beautiful Blue Mountains waited in the background.
I get that we all live by our phones now. I understand that there is no other invention which has to be inserted into every story of yesteryear – you rarely hear a parent remind a child that something happened ‘before fax machines’, but most stories simply don’t make sense unless you point out that they happened in a world before mobile phones. And since my own life has been made so much easier by the technological wizardy of my iPhone, I don’t lament their presence. I just can’t help feeling that all the people staring endlessly at them are missing out on something really special.
When the real version is so much more tantalising, I simply don’t see the point in living life through a lens. There are people right now who have been to Ed Sheeran concerts and never actually seen him in the flesh. Think about that. There are parents whose first view of their child riding a bicycle came framed by a tablet. How does that burn into your memory?
On the Christmas morning after the first time Santa Claus ever came to our home, we all queued up breathlessly outside the living room door – as we have continued to do every year since – and a small, trembling hand went to the door handle. In that instant, I spotted that The Husband had our old video camera pointed at the action. Without a word, I took it away from him. There are some moments, I told him afterwards, that you deserve to see with your own eyes. So there is no footage of our children on Christmas morning – no Facebook photos, no cutsey YouTube clips of toddlers tumbling through endless packaging – yet those precious hours account for some of my most vivid memories. I can summon them with greater ease than pull a picture from my phone – because I was there. Because I engaged my own cornea and retina. Because I actually, properly saw them.
I just can’t help feeling that all the
people staring endlessly at phone screens are missing out on something