A few weeks ago a friend copied me and ten other friends on an email she’d sent to the organizer of an event she had recently attended. Apparently as she was standing in line to pay her admission, several other people were jumping the gate without paying and the organizer did nothing about it. In her email, she asks fair questions: Why was this allowed to happen? Why did you just sit there? How big a sucker am I?

A few hours later the organizer sent a passive-aggressive response ten times longer than her complaint and hit “Reply All.”

I wrote back:

Thank you for copying me on your response and providing evidence of your lack of professionalism. In this age of social media, you should really take more care.

He didn’t write anything further.

This past week, a Facebook friend posted a photo I presume he took on his cell, of a thirty-something guy wearing black yoga pants, a powder blue T-shirt, and flip-flops. “Give your wife her clothes back,” read the caption.

This got me thinking: it used to be George Orwell’s faceless, authoritarian Big Brother in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four we feared. These days, it is us, the collective common folk, who comprise Big Brother. Make one wrong move and we will commemorate it via our cell phone cameras and shoot it to the Internet in a matter of seconds. Where it will live forever and ever, world without end, amen.

The same day I saw the man in yoga pants being berated on Facebook, I saw something I had never seen before on the streets. A big woman whose double-wide, double-high Paula Deen hair added to the big.

But not as much as the pants she was wearing: extremely tight leggings in the most giant animal print I’d ever seen. Each animal spot the size of a paving stone. I couldn’t take my eyes off those pants as I drove by. My split-second instinct was to make a U-turn and take a picture of her.

I snapped out of it and kept driving.

It’s a different world from the one that existed when I was in my teens and twenties. Used to be that snapshots taken at a basement party enjoyed a huge lag time. You had to use up the film. Remember to take it to the drugstore to get it developed. Remember to pick it up. Remember to take the snapshots to school and then wait as they slowly got passed among your friends and then made their way back to you. By then the party is so last-month and nobody cares anymore. Unless, of course, it’s a picture of someone getting a wedgie or a swirlie.

But the world does not operate like this anymore. It’s decidedly digital. Lightning fast. Potentially damaging. Difficult to escape.

The first time I encountered this hard, cold fact was in mid-August when our new band played its first gig, with the idea (sanctioned by the club owner) of bouncing our material past a live audience and working out the kinks. A lot of people showed up. We were excited.

At some point during our first set, we all saw the guy with the video camera. Every time I looked up, that camera was aimed right at us. But it didn’t register. During a break the guy came up to John and said, “You sound great. Mind if I put a couple of songs on YouTube?”

There were five other people waiting to say hi to John. “I guess not,” he said.

Two days later, the guy with the video camera sent our bass player a YouTube link. We were shocked to see that our entire show had been uploaded. There were 28 videos: one for each song we played that day.

We were horrified. For one thing, the soundman showed up a half hour late, plugged in a few things, turned a few knobs, then left. That, combined with the audio capability of the video camera, equaled 28 videos in which you could see us band members bobbing up and down to music you couldn’t really hear. It defeated our original purpose. We didn’t want to go down like this.

(Don’t bother looking for the videos. They’ve all been taken down.)

Just this past week, John got into a political argument, and I use that term loosely, with someone on Facebook who reminds me of every Enterprise rental car agent I’ve ever encountered: slick, cocky, ultra-amped on caffeine.

I had actually unfriended this person back in May, the week of the gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin, after he, a conservative, made a number of offensive comments on my wall and wouldn’t stop after I warned him.

This week, after he and John got into it again, he sent John a screenshot of a comment “your charming wife,” aka I, had written to him back in May. Let’s review:

  • “I know you think you can debate, but you wouldn’t know an argument if it bit you in the butt.” Check.
  • “I see the hateful things you post on your wall.” I used to before I dumped you. But I see you’re still doing it elsewhere. Check.
  • “My conservative girlfriend [name withheld], who voted for Walker today and happens to be one of my closest friends in the world, would be appalled.” Check.
  • “You should be ashamed of yourself. Take your Red Bull and go play somewhere else.” Check. Check.

These days you have to be careful of what you do, wear, and write because it stands an excellent chance of being commemorated in perpetuity. I am lucky this time, because the videos of us on stage looking and sounding less cool than we thought are gone, and I’m 100 percent fine with the comment I made five months ago to Red Bull Boy.

I feel sorry for today’s younger generations, who may never enjoy the thrill of having a secret stash of compromising Polaroids in their underwear drawer that only they and their significant others have seen. Which will be destroyed in front of each other when they split up. There will be no delicious secrets such as the compromising tape in the shoebox on the top shelf of the closet no one uses, that only they and the person they made the tape with have seen. They will never experience the joy – or the relief  – of ripping said tape out of a plastic cassette and burning it on the grill when that relationship ends.

A different world indeed.

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13 Comments

  1. You are so right. We have forever lost the innocence that marked an earlier time. No more skinny dipping on hot summer nights, relying on the lack of documentation to allow for plausible denial afterwards. Never again to sneak out to the grocery store, sans makeup and badly in need of fresh clothing, to pick up a loaf of bread.

    And what have we gained in the trade? The ability to instantly capture a moment, whether by camera or screen shot, in order to document a moment of fleeting beauty, or forever to shame a person already having a difficult day. We are artist and critic, defendant and judge.

    Some things–maybe most things–in life are best left to the fading memories of the participants, not to be archived as part of a digital arsenal.

  2. What’s a Polaroid? (Kidding)

    Different world, indeed. Wish you had been in my Privacy Law class this past summer. We discussed many of these issues, and the resulting law suits. You would have enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the great article and unique viewpoint.

    • Thank you for your comment, John. Now as you know, I have a terrible cold today. So I’m not sure I’m going to get this entirely right, but your comment spurred me to look and see if Polaroid cameras are still being made. They are. In fact in June the company launched a digital version with its own printer, which it refers to as both an “instant digital camera” and “the ultimate social media camera.” So: you can both print copies for everyone at the party and upload the image to social media at the same time. This boggles my mind. I guess we need to now play taps for the Polaroid camera as we knew it too.

  3. Celebrate diversity by recording and sharing and keep your judgments to yourself but people have to learn to think twice in this brave new world where everyone is a potential Mrs. Kravitz with a camera and a YouTube account. We hope that someone gets a video of Nessie but not one of us peeing in the alley. We can’t have it both ways, we must behave accordingly. People who live in glass houses should get some curtains.

  4. Me, I’m just depressed.

      • oh, sorry…just meant that ‘depressed’ was the feeling I had after reading your blog- so truthful about how technology has changed us, and not all in a good way. You know, I love most of what it brings to my life, but now everybody out there are potential papparazzi. no chance for re-dos.

  5. Great writing, Robin, as usual! Really enjoyed it. I’m so glad I at least have my memories of secret Polaroids and hidden videos, back in my younger days (not that I had a lot of them! LoL)

    I think most of us have a fervent LOVE/HATE relationship with this digital age… I know I do!

    You’re so right about needing to be mindful, careful about what we do, wear, and write. Truly “Big Brother” has become us!!

    Oh and Robin, I must commend you m’dear! You have way more self-control than I; if I’d seen the big hair/leggings lady, I probably wouldn’t hav been able to resist turning my car around to go snap the pic!
    Mah bad! 😉

    • Hi Helen, thanks for your comment, and for reading. There are a few shots I regret not getting, and I think that young woman with those pants is going to be one of them. She was a trip. I really like that she was just doing her thing too, just walking down the street as if to say, “Yeah. I’m wearing these pants. I got this hair. This body. So what?” Like you, I have a love/hate relationship with the digital age. Kind of like it. Kind of don’t. That band gig of ours really helped put it all in perspective.

  6. *P.S. This lightning-fast digital age we’re in, being less than 2 decades old (hmm, is that correct?)
    and esp. the last 10 yrs or so with the (amazingly) increased quality of the cell phone camera,
    is really in it’s infancy. And 2 words come to mind, “WILD WEST” !

    Wish I could’ve been in that class your husband was in this summer. That had to be quite interesting!

    • I wish I could have been in that class with John too. This semester he’s taking Internet Law and Intellectual Property Law. He comes home with good stories all the time, and we’ve had a lot of very good conversations. Wild West is right; what a great way to put it. Writing this post brought to mind what I really think was my very first encounter with cell camera technology. I was a runner at the time – I had to think back – it would have been 2005 or 2006 – and running a four-mile route through downtown. A guy with a flip-phone aimed it right at me as I ran by, and it didn’t occur to me until some time later that he had taken my picture. I didn’t like the feeling. I think this was when the first cell phone cameras started appearing. So much has happened in so little time, no?

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