Rhodri Marsden: Filming everything is a dangerous mix of vanity and stupidity
A badly-framed, woozy digital keepsake, an aide-memoire at best, a pointless act of narcissism in pursuit of social media thumbs-up at worst
Rhodri Marsden is the Technology Columnist for The Independent; he has also written about crumpets, Captain Beefheart, rude place names and string. He's also a musician who plays in the band Scritti Politti, and won the under-10 piano category at the 1980 Watford Music Festival by playing a piece called "Silver Trumpets" with verve and aplomb.
Wednesday 09 July 2014
It was the fourth time the Tour de France had visited the UK, but the first time it had passed 50m from my front door.
My interest in cycling normally only extends as far as a gentle pedal down a towpath on a sunny day, but this was different.
The fact that it was going to be closer to my house than the nearest Tesco Express made it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I made sure that I was going to be there on time.
As the cars and motorbikes that precede the riders whizzed past, I felt myself feeling for my phone. When the peloton finally appeared, I held it up and pressed the record button.
Boy, those guys move fast. It took about 15 seconds for them to pass me – which, coincidentally, is the maximum length of a video you can upload to Instagram. I obediently did just that as I trudged home.
Within an hour or so, 43 people had "liked" it. That was my Tour de France experience. I pondered a future conversation with my as-yet unconceived child.
"Did you ever see the Tour de France, Daddy?"
"Well... kind of."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, it doesn't matter."
The thing is, I'd vowed not to do that. Earlier that day, the cyclist Tejay van Garderen had described the British habit of trying to capture selfies featuring gurning faces in front of the rapidly encroaching peloton as "a dangerous mix of vanity and stupidity".
Another, Geraint Thomas, proclaimed it "the new pain in the arse". I didn't feature in the video that I shot, but the aim was pretty much the same as that of the selfie brigade; to capture some kind of souvenir.
But it was evident, as I sat at home later watching ITV footage to see if I'd managed to creep into shot, that my souvenir was pretty worthless.
A badly-framed, woozy digital keepsake, an aide-memoire at best, a pointless act of narcissism in pursuit of social media thumbs-up at worst. The previous day, Sony had strapped its Action Cam to five sheep on a hill in Harrogate to capture some of the Tour de France action. I was no better or worse than one of those sheep.
The selfie obsession is one thing. Taken to extremes, it can become a dark pursuit of a perfect but unrealistic image of oneself, used to seek reassurance and approval.
This, however, is a documentary obsession: the creation of thousands of sabotaged memories that one will never have time to revisit because of that continued obsession with recording and logging.
The depiction of Japanese tourists as compulsive photograph takers was a racist television trope in the 1970s, but has since become an accurate and almost universal portrayal of human behaviour.
As the 4th July fireworks exploded across the United States, their beauty was frequently scaled down to a screen measuring 9cm x 5cm, a vague twinkling of pixels, as people succumbed to a behavioural impulse and thought, well, I don't need to experience this now, I'll experience it later. But they were wrong.
An approving retweet from someone you've never met or a bored nod from a family member is no substitute for a sensory experience. Things don't have to be recorded. It's fine. Let them go. Yes, you might think that you proved to us that you were there, but you weren't there. Not really.
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