Many will long remember watching Usain Bolt shatter the Olympic record and win gold in the 100-m dash at the London Games. I will remember watching a horse’s ass.
No, not Mitt Romney—I mean a real horse and its actual rear. In New York on the afternoon of the final, we hurried back to the hotel, flipped on NBC with only a few minutes to spare and flopped on the bed to watch the highly touted and historic showdown in the can’t-miss event of . . . equestrian show jumping?
Yes, as eight men prepared for the marquee moment of the Summer Games, America’s Olympic network was showing a Saudi prince and his mount leaping over fences and puddles. In this moment, my hatred for NBC burned with the passion of a thousand Aaron Sorkin soliloquies.
Hey, where were you when Usain Bolt won his second straight gold medal?
—Watching a gelding prance over a replica of the Tower of London!
Deprived of the race itself, I found the moment otherwise illuminating. Within seconds, I’d learned the outcome from a torrent of tweets declaring “Bolt” or Bolt!!!” or “Bolt 9.63!!!” The people typing these tweets had been watching the sprinters, of course, but their fingers were clearly poised and primed. They were determined to win the race to tell everyone (including me) what everyone (except me) already knew, assuming they were even remotely interested.
Which led me to think, this is weird, right? It’s weird that we do this.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m fond of gadgets and cynical of those who preach the inherent evils of online life. I see the value of the Internet in building new platforms for social connection, news gathering and naked-lady pictures. But take a look around: we’ve arrived at a point when a good percentage of us spend our days with one eye on life and the other on a keyboard or touchpad.
At a recent Blue Jays game, I sat next to two guys who spent the entire game with their phones in their hands, updating Facebook and sending out tweets. They didn’t look up for the three-run homer. They didn’t even look up for the pretty seventh-inning-stretch girls. OK! BLUE JAYS! LET’S INSTAGRAM THIS PHOTO OF THE POPCORN GUY!
Over the past few years, documenting the experience has become the experience. For more of us each day, life needs to be shared to be enjoyed. Experiences now exist to be captured and tagged, branded with an emoticon or an LOL and released into the world. During a museum visit in New York, I turned away from a Van Gogh to find a crowd behind me—and no fewer than eight cellphone cameras pointed at the canvas. We are measuring our lives in clicks and likes.
This trend is not without its benefits. Walking through Times Square the morning after the Bolt triumph, I was witness to one of modern life’s truly enjoyable vignettes: two women, both with their heads down, both staring into their phones after taking a photo, walking directly into each other. Both responded not with contrition or shame but with a minor fury that the other could be so distracted and careless.
In our eagerness to show that we’re witness to a moment, we risk missing the moment. I know this as well as anyone. I’ve blogged and tweeted my way through a number of Super Bowls and Stanley Cup games—and always emerged with only a partial memory of, you know, the stuff that happened. I’ve grown a little weary of looking at video of my kids and thinking: I have no memory of that memory. At the Vancouver Games, I missed seeing a goal in the gold medal men’s hockey game because I was on Twitter. Worse yet, the same thing almost happened in overtime. That would have been tough to bounce back from.
Grampa, what was it like to see Sidney Crosby score that winner for the gold way back in 2010?
—I missed it. But oh, the hilarity of my tweet about Patrick Kane’s mullet!
Anyone who’s ever glimpsed my penmanship or my body without clothes on it knows I’m not big on self-improvement. But it’s worth remembering that life doesn’t owe us any special moments. When it offers one up, maybe we should give it our full attention.
Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk