Is performance lifestyle harmful?

Many years ago while on holiday at the Versailles palace I noticed an amusing pair of tourists. He was tall, large and filming everything with his camera. She was short and slim and trying to hold the audio guide close to the camera while he panned over the ceilings – the effect was an amusing dance through the gilded halls. What struck me was that neither of them seemed to be enjoying the present but were more interested in producing a record of the trip.

When I talk about social media (which I seem to do a lot) I often refer to Performance Lifestyle. This is the documentation of our lives to an imaginary or perceived audience. One of the minor effects is to create the extra-ordinary in an ordinary life. Online people don’t (for example) simply drink coffee but they either drink terrible or fabulous coffee. Or maybe they create a special interest in coffee and create a type of art or research project around the mundane event of coffee drinking (I’m guilty of this). The point is that since we live normal lives we need to create a supernormal version of everyday events.

Some may find this silly, but silly does not make it pointless. Many find sport silly, but to those with the interest it is hardly silly. Silly is therefore not an interesting measurement. But what if our performance lifestyles could be harmful in some way? In a recent lecture I argued that

One of the interesting things about technology is the way in which it enables us to do things which we normally cannot do. But it is also interesting that technology encourages us to do things differently. For example there seems to be a change in the way in which we react today when we witness an accident or emergency.

1. Photograph the event
2. Tweet the photo
3. Update status on Facebook
4. Call emergency services

Naturally this is apocryphal but it has a sad ring of truth about it.

This is something I would like to study closer but it is difficult to find a methodology to prove or disprove this effect. But take a look at what happened during the Oslo bombing on the 22 July, 2011.

This is a screenshot portion of this page. Click view image to view full size.

Time 15:25 The bomb goes off at 15:25 and 22 seconds. At 38 seconds the blast registers on NORSAR seismic data equipment at Løten. At 45 seconds the tweet “Holy Crap did Oslo just explode?”

Time 15:26 The police receive their first notification

Time 15:28: 10 seconds tweet “Shit! Office window blew up! What happened?”, 21 seconds tweet “Loud band in center of Oslo, what was it?”, 44 seconds tweet “Bomb downtown”

Time 15:29: 3 seconds tweet “Lightning, bomb, terror? What happend at Youngstorget? Our office was crushed!”

This page has a fascinating chronological list of tweets.

This is fascinating stuff but there are several problems here. First is the time – how exact are these measurements, what could or should be the reaction times to expect? Is it fair to make generalizations from the communication of shocked people in an event of this magnitude? What about the more banal everyday accidents that occur in our lives? How could we effectively observe and measure the ways in which our technology changes the ways in which we react to everyday emergencies? It’s all good and well to say things we think to be true but how do we actually conduct research around this topic? Seriously, I’m asking you. Only then could I answer the question posed in the title.

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