Our digital lives


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated January 09, 2011 12:00 AM

Practically everyone I know now lives at least two lives. I am not talking about schizophrenics or those who have secret lives families, lovers, children, etc. that they hide from their friends and loved ones. I am talking about the everyday real lives of people and the slices of our own lives that we upload for the world to see. I am talking about our virtual, online lives.

This phenomenon, novel as it is, where we upload our thoughts, shout-outs, pictures, videos, reactions to everything happening around us, is certainly something new in the history of mankind. Recently, I looked at a site called the Facebook map of the world and was amazed that practically the whole Philippines was lighted up, signifying the number and density of users spread all over the country. Some countries were hardly even there Iran, China, Pakistan, etc.

As of the latest count, there are 19 million Filipinos on Facebook. We comprise 3.27 percent of all Facebook users in the world. Throw in Twitter (2.19 percent), Gmail, Yahoo, Multiply, Linked in, Hotmail, Myspace, etc. and you can imagine how many hours of our lives are spent in cyberspace. And there is also our legendary use of cell phone text, which amounts to close to 1.6 billion texts per day.

I am amazed at how easily we Filipinos have taken to cyberspace. The old labels that divide countries into First, Second and Third World are meaningless to one who has adapted to virtual life. Perhaps it is because chatting, connecting, sharing and keeping in touch with friends and family are important to us. While our e-commerce may be less developed than, say, Hong Kong or Singapore, we are quite adept and savvy at all other things virtual and online.

In many ways, real life is being encroached on and taken over by our online lives. Pictures are exchanged, videos are uploaded and shared, thoughts on blogs are forwarded, issues are discussed, jokes are told and retold, and people are poked daily without being in the same room.

Some people prefer to read the news online. I explore the Net when I wish to know more about what I want to buy, compare prices, or check on a movie schedule, or need instant answers to questions. In my own house, my wife and kids, much to my irritation, contact me through Gmail chat when they do not want to leave what they are doing in their rooms to ask me something.

Our lives have changed so much since we bit the digital apple, and it will continue to do so. Music stores all over the world are closing because legal and illegal digital downloading has made the music business model quite irrelevant. Sometime last year, I went to a wake and was rather amused to learn that the family of the deceased had made arrangements to have the body viewed online by relatives abroad who could not make it home for the funeral.

While people still give out real invitations to weddings and cocktails, I must confess that I check out the details online more than the actual paper announcement. I also RSVP via e-mail or Facebook. When I look for and see how few baby pictures I had, I marvel at how easily technology has made photographers of everyone. Cameras and film were expensive then. Now everyone has a gadget to take photos and videos and record voice and share these instantly with everyone. These days, a person can be conceived, born, and go through all the stages of life until death, totally documented via different media.

Digital life has opened up so many possibilities that, from a creator’s point of view, present unique opportunities and challenges for artists. Whereas the analog way of doing art was a collaboration between artist and imperfect tools to fashion tangible stuff into real life art objects, digital artists have it much easier. But because of this, the challenge is, an artist must come from a deeper place to express something unique. Not only is competition stiffer due to universal access to the same apps, but also because readily available digital tools can make “real” what used to be physically hard, if not impossible, to do.

The sheen, perfection and precision that can be achieved with a few mouse clicks, cut and paste, etc. can churn out what on the surface are seemingly better ‘masterpieces’ faster.

The process, though, makes us pause. If, for example, I, who can hardly play the piano, can stitch, copy and paste, input and quantize together the notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and play it back flawlessly, that makes the process of making music in the digital age less majestic and, in fact, manufactured. That’s why American scientist Jaron Lanier said that style in the digital age must come from the only place so far untouched by bytes and pixels, which is the soul.

But even with their downside, I am not one to turn my back on gadgets that make things so much easier. It’s the digital age, and it is here to stay. That’s why I chuckle when I hear my kids rave about having bought a record player and brag about their growing collection of vinyl records.

Last night, my son bid online for the Beatles’ “Help” album for AU$12. I thought it was a bit expensive considering that vinyl records, though admittedly cool, are analog products of a bygone era. But, I guess, for people who were born and grew up in the digital age, something iconoclastic such as a mechanical contraption that plays music in an analog manner has a big wow factor.

And that may be a good sign since there seems to be a hankering for less-than-perfect, non-instant, non-digital expression. I still enjoy bookstores; the feel of a book in my hand and the smell of paper are still attractive to me, even if I mostly buy only ebooks now.

Live musicians are an infinitely bigger thrill to listen to than canned music anytime. A hand written letter is more precious than the same letter sent through email. My approach to photography, even if I use a DSLR camera, is still to try to take photos good enough so I don’t have to use Photoshop, just like when I used to have an analog camera.

There is probably more information in cyberspace about almost everything and everyone now than there was five years ago. That’s because practically everyone now has probably attempted a shot at “15 megabytes of fame,” as M.G. Sriram describes the proliferation of blogs. Anyone who wants to know anything about anyone is bound to find something. Sometimes, I worry about what I upload, knowing that it will be on the Net forever. I constantly have to remind myself that, as some unknown author said, “You can’t take something off the Internet it’s like taking pee out of a pool.”

Cyberspace is so pervasive we sometimes need to remind ourselves that the Internet is not a substitute for real living, although I know many people who tend to believe it is so. If I could choose a metaphor, I would say real life is like having children and virtual life is like having grandchildren. When you have children, it is a 24-hour concern and there is no turning off from one’s duties. When you have grandchildren, it is delightful, wonderful and all that, but when they begin to get bratty, you can always switch off being a grandparent and return them to their parents.

# # #

Got a new DSLR camera last Christmas? Great! Let me teach you how to use it.

I would like to invite you all to my first workshop in Manila for 2011. I am offering a Basic Photography workshop on Feb. 5, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Visit http://jimparedes-workshops.com/, or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303.

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jim, ilovemyshelf. ilovemyshelf said: very insightful!!! life no matter, what kind it is, is beautiful!!!RT @jimparedes My article today on Philstar http://bit.ly/fFYPNI […]

Craig Peihopa
10 years ago

Great post Jim. I am not surprised that the Philippines has
become so comfortable with communicating over the net. I recall in
the late 80s how many people were interested to have pen pals in
Australia, and write letters even to anonymous people to make new
friends, yet many of the people I grew up with couldnt be bothered
writing a letter to anyone, and still dont engage much in an online
sense today.

Nicole Almendral
Nicole Almendral
10 years ago

I have always been a great fan of your work. =) Worthy read. Thank you!