The scene above is of course from Lewis Carroll's 1871 book, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Alice has just helped a disheveled White Queen with her disobedient shawl and her unruly hair, and the queen has proposed taking on Alice as a lady's-maid. When offered jam on any day except to-day, Alice becomes befuddled by the queen's seeming illogicality but (in my favorite line) the queen assures Alice that her confusion comes as a natural result of living backwards - and in fact can make one "a little giddy." (Giddy denotes a feeling of disoriented excitement but literally means possessed by a god.)
I've been thinking about this section of the book for the past few years as I wrestled with my acceptance, banishment, and (healthier?) re-introduction to the numerous and sundry social media platforms. Confronted daily with the frowning zombies staring into their own palms while thumbing through thousands of digital pictures, twitter feeds, or facebook pages on the subway, at a restaurant, in a car, walking down the street (into traffic), etc., (LOOK UP!!) I have assumed something of a hobby-study: deciphering what kind of joy these "users" believe they feel in this catatonic state. In what timeline are they experiencing the joy? Is it in the future when the friend, whose picture they "liked," "likes" theirs back as a reciprocal act? Is it in celebration with their past-self friend - as if double tapping a picture is anything more than a fleeting gesture, saying: what a great, staged moment that was? (Remember when you dreaded sitting through a slideshow of holiday snapshots?)
And what of the poster? Are they capturing this well-lit, overly overjoyed version of themselves eating a taco with the love of their lives (#blessed) for the joys of the future "likes?" Or to "remember" the moment for the self-congratulatory euphoria they feel when flipping through thousands of their own digital pictures on the subway, at a restaurant, in a car, walking down the street, etc. etc.? Celebrating a false past, never experienced only OBSERVED?
How do we live in the now? Can now be experienced or is it such a minuscule cross-section of time that one can never be in it but only on either side of it? How far away from now can we experience the now and still be in the now? Actors in the theatre are taught to "live in the now" while onstage, to experience the character's reality in each moment. As a conductor in the theatre, I have to be attuned to the present in order to keep the many individuals in concert with each other during a performance. My piano teacher used to reprimand me for restarting a moment if I made a mistake - I've learned to experience the mistake and continue, but that took years of playing to achieve.
How many times have you been to a wedding and witnessed as attendees watch the bride's procession through a screen? How about a concert? Or a party? We have always learned from the past. We've read stories from the past. Attended plays from the past. And looked at pictures from the past. But that is not what is happening in social media use and consumption. When someone photographically captures(!) an experience in order to relive it later, they have stepped through the looking glass and into a temporal quagmire. In order to re-live an experience, one must live it first. While collecting the information through the filter of a device, the moment that should have been experienced has instead been viewed - in the same manner in which that person intends to consume the material later.
If you have never experienced the life moments you record, how can these posts be a reflection of you? We share experiences we have never experienced. You live on either side of the picture - but suspend an artificial representation of yourself (or your experience) in between. You wait to see how many viewers you get, how many likes, how many retweets. You celebrate your past self, who is not really you because you were never doing the deed you captured, only posing or demonstrating the behavior - perhaps redoing the shot many times to get the perfect angle and lighting. You wait to find out the worth of your future self, existing through the acknowledgement, acceptance, and virtual love from others.
Is this how we must live now? Tree in the forest living. If no one likes my picture, did the event happen? I've considered not putting this out - these are just my initial thoughts on a much larger societal shift in how humans "interact." I used to think people were living in the past on their phones - but now I think it's both the past and the future. At any rate, click below and please enjoy Carol Channing singing "Jam Tomorrow" from the 1985 TV mini series version of Alice in Wonderland - songs written by Steve Allen.