Friday, July 13, 2012

Death by smartphone: the Pitchfork edition

Posted By on 07.13.12 at 01:50 PM

Keen product placement by Incase at Pitchfork
  • Keen product placement by Incase at Pitchfork
Yesterday morning the Reader's digital content editor, Tal Rosenberg, sent out an e-mail extensively detailing how we, the Pitchfork-attending staff of the Reader, are going to cover the festival in real time. Given, we already produced a comprehensive Pitchfork guide with write-ups of every band—as well as detailed, hour-by-hour itineraries—but the buck can't and won't stop there. Blog posts must be posted, tweets tweeted, and Instagram photos taken so they can be shared, again and again and again. Years ago, coverage of Pitchfork and like-minded megafestivals slowed after the print publication was placed in its boxes. But these days any and every music journalist and blogger is nudged (or required) to stay sober enough to spew out 140-character to 500-word musings on why the dude from Sleigh Bells is wearing a leather jacket in 95-degree heat.

I want to make it clear that I don't hate the wi-fi world. If I did, I would've extricated myself from it years ago and found a nice one-bedroom shanty in the middle of the Montana wilderness to make crafts. Instead, I try to navigate it well enough to hashtag a decent, albeit sometimes hurried, critique, or shoot a beautiful, Brannan-filtered photo while still enjoying a set as a live-music fan. (Believe it or not, not everyone who writes about music is a bitter and withdrawn naysayer. We do occasionally like to watch, without interruption, our favorite bands play their instruments.) But how much does the responsibility to inflict my thoughts on a world that may not want them interfere with my casual enjoyment of watching a live performance by an absorbing band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor? The tweeting and Instagramming can wait, I'll often think to myself, right before I pull my phone out of my back pocket.

In the recent article Is the Web Driving You Mad?, Newsweek's Tony Dokoupil details the phenomenon of Internet psychosis and what next year's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will describe as "Internet Addiction Disorder." He writes:

Altogether the digital shifts of the last five years call to mind a horse that has sprinted out from underneath its rider, dragging the person who once held the reins. No one is arguing for some kind of Amish future. But the research is now making it clear that the Internet is not "just" another delivery system. It is creating a whole new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel, and few people will survive unscathed.

The "new mental environment" Dokoupil speaks of is one where an iPhone left at home results in a minor catastrophe, or where not checking Facebook for a day is a very real struggle—I'm not judging either; I have Facebook open right now. As thoughts have begun forming in terms of likes, handles, and comments, we all know it's become more difficult, almost maddening, to separate ourselves from our phones or computers. And so with our Pitchfork coverage, we'll undoubtedly have our noses in our phones much of the weekend, "typing" quippy reviews about Danny Brown, Liturgy, Vampire Weekend, or whomever our inundated brains can string together a coherent thought or two on. Adapt or die, I guess.

Dokoupil goes on:

Perhaps not that surprising: those who want the most time online feel compelled to get it. But in fact these users don’t exactly want to be so connected. It’s not quite free choice that drives most young corporate employees (45 and under) to keep their BlackBerrys in the bedroom within arms’ reach, per a 2011 study; or free choice, per another 2011 study, that makes 80 percent of vacationers bring along laptops or smartphones so they can check in with work while away; or free choice that leads smartphone users to check their phones before bed, in the middle of the night, if they stir, and within minutes of waking up.

Factor me into the 80 percent. I was on "vacation" a couple months back sitting on the curb at 22nd and Valencia in San Francisco writing headlines for a cover story on my iPhone and e-mailing them to my editor. Not my ideal way to spend a Friday afternoon on vacation, but it had to be done—and neither of us was at fault. I was actually happy to have an iPhone, while simultaneously cursing the iPhone's existence. Perhaps I'd feel liberated if I lost my phone, but I also know I'd rather lose my wallet—I can easily replace my Dominicks club card and no money. Not so easily replaced is a tiny, pocket-size computer.

During past Pitchforks—depending on cell phone reception—I suspect I checked my phone at least a couple hundred times altogether, because I knew my brain needed the endorphins. This year I'm going to begin a gradual effort to tweet less and pay more attention without pissing off the overlords. But I also don't want to deprive anyone of what I have to say (God forbid!). So please check out the @kevinwarwick preemptively deleted tweets you'll be missing out on this weekend.

kevinwarwick Day one, act one: Outer Minds. OK, I'm ready. #p4k

kevinwarwick What, am I really watching Vampire Weekend? No thanks. Until next year, Pitchfork. #p4k

Decreasing a smartphone's grasp on a brain is all about baby steps, everyone.

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