I had a thought recently: has technology made going to a show better? My initial answer would be yes. From our ability to buy tickets to recording a live performance, everything has been improved upon with the advent of technology. So, that must be a yes, right?
My own history has shown that the answer is not that simple. No one can deny how much easier it is today to learn about an upcoming tour, a new album or directly connect with band member. It’s absolutely great.
The band itself has been on the leading edge of it for decades. From its use of multimedia during the ZOO TV Tour (’92-’93) to its relationship with Apple, they embraced it instead on shunning it. So where’s the problem?
With the emergence of social media it now has become important for us to record so much of our lives and to receive approval (in the form of likes, comments and/or emojis) for it. And, when did that happen? When did it become so important to let others know what we are doing at any given moment? Sure, a U2 show is a special occasion so it would justify documenting that moment of our lives. But, that is not what happens. We tend to document both the momentous and prosaic in equal measure. Obviously, technology has much to do with that. If it were harder to do, we would most likely do less.
The sad part is that I spent so much time recording the moment, that I missed a substantial part of it. That didn’t used to happen. I can remember the tours of Joshua Tree, Zoo TV, PopMart and Elevation with great detail, all because I didn’t have a camera (no camera phones existed during these tours as well) and I simply watched the show. Beginning with Vertigo and through i+e, camera phones continued to improve and my focus shifted to capturing the event. I’m glad that I did, but it is a little different now and I can’t say it is all for the better.
U2’s shows are fantastic now. They have harmonized skill, practical knowledge, technology and artistry to create a truly enriching spectacle. The thing is, it is so good I can’t just sit back and observe; I have to record. The very thing that makes it worth watching makes me want to do something else in addition to that.
The worst part of that is that my friends are also doing the same thing. At any given moment they’re trying to get that great shot, record a particular song or post something in real-time that it has become a less shared experience than in the past even though we’re standing right next to each other. I can remember in older tours feeling so connected to my friends and the band at the same time when my favorite songs were being performed. There was this whole cool dynamic of completely being in the moment, surrounded by friends and fans and totally immersed in the music that it almost felt like floating.
This is not to say that I don’t feel that anymore; I do. And I don’t want it sound like I’m lamenting for days before social media and mobile phones. I’m just saying that it was a little simpler back then. I did less. As a result, I experienced more.
I remember seeing a clip on YouTube from a recent show (I can’t remember which) where Bono invited a bunch of people on stage, as he has done so many times. But during this time, many of them were concentrating on taking selfies that it seemed like they had forgotten they were on stage with one of the biggest bands on the planet. Bono did what he could to bring them back, saying, “Live in the moment. Be in the moment.” However, it was strange that he had to say that. It was strange that he had to compete for their attention. And it is even stranger that this will likely be the new normal.
I tell myself that if I were ever lucky enough to be pulled on stage, I definitely would not be taking selfies. I don’t really fault the people that do. But, I just don’t want my memory of that unique point in my life being of me trying to frame the shot with me in the foreground and the band and audience in the background, while Bono waited.
So, does that mean will I leave my smartphone and camera at home when the next tour comes to town? No. I will be bringing them with me. My hope is that I can find the balance of capturing key points of the show and simply enjoying the rest. I want to be more present for their future shows, not less.
In a way, I just want to be the guy who went to the show and marveled at what the band had in store.