As a writer, it’s my job to see the world in ways that others don’t. It’s my job to notice not only the way rain sounds, but the way it feels, smells, and tastes. How it refreshes yet annoys, how it steams the sidewalks on a hot day and falls like tiny pebbles on a frigid one. I’m the one that notices the man sitting, by himself, at the end of the bar when out with friends and wonders why he’s alone, forming a backstory in the recesses of my mind before I can stop myself. This means seeing the world through an unobstructed gaze. Without distractions. Without a lens. Naked and pure.
But, as a content associate in a very digital age, it’s also my job to watch the world through a screen. Given that one of my main responsibilities is to manage social media accounts for multiple clients, it’s my job to see the world in calculated ways. In ways that make it more appealing to certain audiences. It is not enough to simply observe and relish in all the unique and divine details of the human condition, I must be ready to capture those details, tweak them, present them, and analyze them.
This contradiction presented itself in a “get off my grass,” old man on the front porch, type of observation over the weekend.
While at a concert last week, on the floor of an almost sold out show, pushed to the back and struggling to see, I noticed that even though I had my phone put away, I was primarily watching the concert through screens. Other people’s screens. Above the heads of the sea of people in front of me, people I could barely see over anyway, hovered rows of artificially lit screens recording, snapping, flashing, typing, and transmitting.
I was not only struck by the fact that these people had no regard for the people behind them that couldn’t see the stage past their glowing blocks, but by the fact that they were there, in person, in spots they had paid for, experiencing this moment like they probably experienced most of their moments, through a screen. And, had I not been in the very back forced to observe the human condition through an unobstructed writer’s gaze, I might have been right there with them.
Can You Even See?
I am not simply complaining about “kids these days” or pining for a simpler time (though, come on, are you ever actually going to watch those videos again?), I’m making an observation about something I myself am guilty of. Not seeing. My job managing social media has flipped my digital switch to a permanent on position and I have to make an extreme effort to turn it off. I turned it off at the concert out of necessity–I wasn’t going to get any good pictures or videos from my vantage point–and it forced me to realize just how eager I am to capture moments rather than experience them.
This isn’t a new observation. It’s a well-known fact that in our world of screens and tweets and snaps and likes, we’re more likely to be on our devices than off them. It’s become a mark of pride to “unplug” or “take a Facebook break” and the moments of our lives are captured and displayed for others to see (or envy, possibly?). I’m not claiming I am the first to notice that we’re too wrapped up in our phones. But, this is the first time that I have noticed, or been acutely aware, of the contradicting characteristics of two parts of my life that present as the same job–writer.
I am also aware that there are others out there like me–others that work in a world where it’s crucial to capture a quote on Twitter or to populate Instagram stories with funny and engaging moments from an event or just a typical day. And that’s fine. There’s a reason companies are on social media and spend valuable dollars creating videos and digital content. It’s necessary. It’s why I have a job that pays the bills and allows me to pursue other passions.
The point of this post is not to bitch about the people that impeded my view at the concert (I’ve done enough of that over the last few days). It’s to make a request of those that hold jobs similar to mine. Those that must present the world on a screen to help businesses meet goals, build brands and tell stories. My request of you, and of me, is–don’t forget to see. When possible, put the phone down. Don’t spend the seconds wondering what the perfect hashtag for this moment would be. Don’t listen to a speech simply to capture the next tweet-worthy quote.
Doing this helps me be a better writer but it also helps me be a better person. Or, at least, a person that observes and relishes in all the unique and divine details of the human condition.