The Curse Of Atemporality In Tech-Saturated Late-Capitalist Cultures


… the sea of muddy kids in the crowd, a sea in movement as well as density. So many humans, packed into a small space together, bobbing around every which way. Shit-eating grins, sodden jumpers.

And not one phone in sight.

Don’t worry, this isn’t some Back To The Land, Look Up-type post, entreating that we should all abandon our tech, wear waistcoats made out of rabbit skin and change our names to Oliver and Jeremy.

I love technology. To a large degree, I am technology, if you factor in the various systems that interweave with my life, like vaccines and Wikipedia, that produce a human utterly unlike any human three hundred years ago.

Also, I’m not saying those kids would eschew waving their mobiles around if they’d had the chance to have modern tech back then. They would have loved smartphones as much as we do now. As much as I do since I was a kid back then.

But the lack of opportunity forced those audiences to be totally in the moment. They’re watching the band play with their own eyes, not looking at a tiny screen and trying to figure out how best to frame the action.

Contrast that with a modern gig which is most often a forest of hands held up not in tribute but in video capture. The audience are not in the NOW of the gig because they are too concerned with the FUTURE video/pics of the gig. They have become atemporal.

This moment, this instant you’re reading these words will never happen again. It’s here, it’s gone. Poof!

Did you make the most of it? DID YOU TAKE A PIC? FOR GOD’S SAKE, WHERE IS THE PIC??

If the now you inhabit is merely a film set on which you construct media for a future audience to consume, that leaches meaning from that now.

You’re at a gig, you think, ‘This is brilliant, I need to take some video, show off how great it is.’ The instant you get your phone out and start taking video, you ruin the gig for yourself as you’re not actually immersed in the gig anymore, you’re immersed in getting the footage. And when you re-watch the gig footage or see how many likes you’ve got, does that give you the feelings back that it destroyed in manufacture? Of course it doesn’t.

Now, obviously, there are exceptions; wedding photos, a five-second video of your child’s first step. I’m not saying any vid or pic is a gateway to atemporal dysthymia. Like everything, there’s a spectrum here.

But if you look around, you’ll see atemporality draining the mana of the instant in many different areas of your life. As a musician, I sit staring at a digital audio workstation screen on my Mac. This contains a piano-roll type display of my song such that I can see what parts are coming when, what’s playing now and what’s played in the past. The temptation here is to listen atemporally, to not listen at all but look-listen.

If I switch my monitor off, I am back in the instant of the music, in the NOW. That break that I thought was cool is actually kind of weak, it just looked good.

Of course, we can drift into atemporality all by ourselves, no tech needed. We can lie in bed obsessing about past conversations and how they should have gone. We can sabotage relationship after relationship in the hope that we’ll meet the perfect paramour just the day after tomorrow. We can imprison ourselves by worrying what might happen if we are bold when, rationally, we know we are perfectly safe.

However, today’s tech is both fidget spinner and magic mirror. At the party, when we’re awkward, we can pretend to check our phone. Or we can take a picture that will hopefully provide later validation of our cuteness/craziness. All of this is a distraction from the now, a small destruction of the now.

Enbies, ladies and gentlemans, I present to you

Mishra’s Ironic Inverse Presence Law:

The more pictures or vids you take at an event, the more you weren’t truly there.

Source: Me, just now

Imagine this: you’re with someone you’ve fancied for a while. They’re close to you. Their hand brushes your shoulder, your face. You smile at them and gaze into their eyes. They get closer. Their mouth is nearly brushing yours, you can feel the heat from their lips….

AND YOU STOP AND SAY – ‘Hold up, dawg, I just want to get a picture of our first ever kiss!’ Then you spend five minutes staging and posing until you get something that looks “real.”

I repeat, I am not saying throw your phones away, bring back the carrier pigeon.

All I’m saying is that sometimes it’s better to make memories than make TikToks.