Super selfie love story

Venice Evening

Sometimes I feel unworthy of living in Venice. I don’t pay enough attention to details, especially now the numbers are slowing down. Walking back to the hotel with my headphones on, I feel guilty for not listening to bursts of opera or cutlery exchanging hands. Spotify is a generic experience. Play, pause and repeat over and over again.

Collectively, we are going through the first phase of hyper acceleration. An unprecedented boom of global fertility has ensured everyone wants the same picture of the Grand Canal. Likewise, I’m just a temporary EU migrant passing through the loveliest city in the world. It was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass.

Everyday I see newly married couples snuggle in beautifully crafted gondolas and it’s very much a case of play, pause and repeat. Same posed smile, loving tilt of the head and furrowed brow. I’ve witnessed a thousand honeymoons upload their story underneath a bridge. Seen through a tiny prism of light, it’s a unique private moment, one shared with loved ones and liked by long distance friends.

Only I see the same love story every single day.

Away from the watery parade, I remove my headphones, the plastic grooves gnashing onto my collar bone I enter a chaste world of silence and reflection.

Despite being ardently secular in my politics, I took comfort in this celestial refuge. Photography is banned in Venetian churches and the circus of life takes a deferential pause. With my rucksack weighing on my back, I sat in silence amongst elaborately carved tombs and dead wooden benches.

It’s one of the few places in Venice where you can share a private moment, a world without flashing cameras and streamed playlists. Outside the craziness goes on oblivious, and I have to get back to my hotel; shower, get changed and go online again. My smartphone might vibrate with loving messages.

I guess there is something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.

GIFs as metaphors

Faulkner

Back in the noughties I used to maintain a Blogger diary and updated it twice a week. What struck me reading it back (now safely offline) is not so much the pretentiousness or negativity, but the extraordinary length I went to describe ordinary things.

Like all early bloggers I had no visual content to illuminate my words and unlike the multi-dimensional apps we use today, Little Earthquakes was my exclusive space on the internet. During the beta years, there were no status updates, memes or tweets to keep you entertained throughout the working day.

On reading my old diaries, it’s probably a good thing Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist. As while I’ll love dreamy quotes and literary feels until I die, I was a dreadful twentysomething.

Most people’s diaries are excruciating, but there is an unnerving sense I could have done anything and blew it through inertia and self-sabotage.

Blogger

Nobody uses Blogger anymore but on re-reading my noughties blog I am surprised at the length and indeed the frequency of my updates. The paragraphs were longer, denser and wonderfully inconsiderate of modern formats that prefer reactionary images and videos.

Essentially I was a frontier blogger repeating what had gone on in the analogue era. And by writing in traditional English my diaries are likely to appear dated to future generations.

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Visual means of communicating are already taking precedence with journalism reduced to using Gifs as metaphors. Like why compose a 600 word blog when you can upload a 6 second Vine instead? The English language has always been in a state of constant flux and smartphone apps are revolutionising how kids communicate with one another.

Funeral Selfie

Last year’s Selfies at Funerals website was superbly funny and became an internet obsession for about a week. It was almost like the cartoon participants were an anthropological case study from another planet, but Generation Z are going to write the future and it doesn’t have to include words. As the seemingly trivial selfie has an emotional resonance amongst teens that even people in their early thirties don’t understand.

Selfies are insanely silly for the most part – a warm, funny and entertaining way to share our feelings and communicate with one another. Witnessing the birth of a visual language is a fascinating experience. Smartphones have created something innately human and more importantly new. This has never happened before and our selfie-obsessed culture is like a web born toddler taking its first steps.

IMG-20140315-WA0004

Visual storytelling is what moves people now and even Twitter’s famous 140 character limit is being invaded by images. Historically pictures have always been easier and quicker for people to understand. They get the message across more vividly.

With smartphones replacing words with photos, I am already looking out of date. Indeed it’s safe to say that anyone over thirty is now irrelevant. Even those who embrace Snapchat while composing Emoji poetry are culturally obsolete  Emoji symbol

Emoji

Emoji is a visual alphabet from Japan that originated in 1999 because the Japanese language is not suited to shorthand messaging. These “picture characters” are commonly misunderstood for emoticons, which is a portmanteau for emotions + icons we use to supplement our text messages and badly written emails (-:

A subtle difference, but a profound one as Emoji symbols are replacing words altogether. That’s not to say the sentiments or ideas expressed in this way are any less meaningful than writing formally.

Digital problems require new solutions and visual short cuts are inevitable if we spend all our time on smartphones. It’s an economy of scale. Only I’m unlikely to compose my thoughts using Emoji, when as a digital immigrant, I’ve been brought up to use words, sentences, and paragraphs.

Elephant in the Room

Although despite not taking any selfies or writing in symbols you have to adapt to survive. Language has always evolved and mutated over time. Fitzgerald did not write like Shakespeare and millennial teenagers will be the same.

The speed of change is relentless and my noughties blog has dated like an rotary dial telephone in an Apple Store. And you know what? It isn’t even that old. But history is accelerating faster than ever before. Less than a decade can pass and your twenties read like something from a period drama.

The future on you

I don’t know when it happened but I became obsessed with the future. Not what happens tomorrow, next week or even six months time, more how the next generation will perceive us. In my early twenties I didn’t care how my society would go down in history. It never even occurred to me.

Perhaps I was too busy living to realise, but the early millennium felt like a continuation of what had gone on before. Mobile phones fell into our pockets only we never ever had any credit to make a difference.

A social revolution has long since taken place and we are embracing the first wave of profound human change, and the wild promises of illusionary realities. Crackling with vitality, the internet is a counter-planet constructed in an invisible place, almost like a post-terrestrial resistance against an empty universe.

Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism – “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us”  – has never been more prevalent in modern culture.

Google Glass Map

While I embrace change, I also fear becoming irrelevant to the unborn billions who will be entirely shaped by the internet. Despite immersing myself in smartphone culture, I find the potential of retinal technology absolutely terrifying. Google Glass (or its descendants) will revolutionise society in twenty years time. An augmented reality service that optimises eyesight to W3 will change everything.

The ’80s yuppies with their brick mobile phones are what marketing types call ‘early adopters’. They shaped the landscape and now they are ubiquitous. Likewise the Californian tech-hipsters with Google Glasses are just the beginning.

Even if you opt out of wearing Google Glass there will be billions of digitally subscribed eyes immersing you in their own reality. Uncomfortable? Move with the times.

When you can re-live the past there’s nothing you can hide. Our faculties are already being eroded by the internet and with retinal technology, you will no longer need to remember anything.

Memory could well become a myth like ancient Latin or Greek. A romantic illusion unable to compete with an all knowing camera. With everyone carrying a second screen in their pockets, our lives are becoming increasingly cinematic.

Hence the rise of immersive cinema and theatre events in London and New York, where audiences want to interact with events that hitherto they had passively consumed in silence.

Our post-modern universe is like being trapped midway on a celluloid reel. Sometimes I imagine myself as a frail 82-year-old in 2063, reminiscing to young people about my semi-pastoral childhood in the late 20th century. Recalling barbaric stories about ordinance survey maps, paper rounds, rotary dial telephones, and black and white televisions.

Unlike today my Mum couldn’t upload images of her 3-year old son’s birthday onto a global network. I was nobody’s profile picture. My first day at school wasn’t recorded on camera either. Neither was my younger brother and sister. Fading photographs captured my childhood in a rustic manner, but our lives are an ongoing anthology, a composite of many selves, and the young boy in those pictures doesn’t exist anymore.

One seminal moment took place in my mid-teens, when in 1996 my Dad sent his first ever e-mail on this strange invention called the internet. My brother and I gathered round his swivel black chair and watched history in the making.

We didn’t think anything of it at first but I do remember it vividly. Who were we to know that this new technology would transform our lives forever? Now that’s history worth remembering and I haven’t looked back since.

1985