The permanence of print. The delineating of the digital. The staining of tattoos and the discordant nature of social media. All of these issues and more are explored by choreographer Katie Dale Everett in her extended Digital Tattoo programme. On Saturday 10 June, Katie put on her interactive activity Conversations About The Digital, which will return to No34 on Tuesday 13 June. Here’s a short review of the experience…
When you stop and think about social media, it’s quite an overwhelming phenomenon. On the one hand, it’s connecting us with people all across the globe. It’s uniting people who might otherwise never have the opportunity to meet and it’s creating conversations But social media itself is still a little odd. Yes, we’re “talking” to people (though this depends on your definition of talking and of course many conversations that begin online are subsequently taken offline as friendships are formed and relationships forged.) There are times when we’re just shouting loudly into a digital abyss too, only the difference is that the abyss remembers. We change. Our opinions, our views, our appearances, our circumstances – none of these have to be concrete but what if social media suggests otherwise? Are our past opinions tattooed on us for the rest of our (digital) lives?
It’s a valid question, one that Katie unpicks with all three elements of her programme. The film explores the literal sense of the question, with digital imprints shown to be tattooed on the subject’s body. It’s when we feel that this information is unavoidably attached to us that we seemingly become desperate to wipe it away. In Conversations About The Digital, participants get involved by following along to a pre-recorded activity. When it starts, it feels eerily reminiscent of the oh-so dreaded bleep test forced upon us at school; each time the tape beeps a new instruction is delivered. The different with Conversations About The Digital is that there’s no requirement of excessive running!
The conversation begins by posing some questions to all those taking part. It’s an opt-in activity that requires each participant to have a smartphone. The audio slowly works through various questions and queries surrounding social media, directing people to various spaces within the room dependant on their answers. It’s actually quite interesting to see movement matched with media in this way. Some of the questions would ask us to change our pace, our direction, whether we stood up or sat down. Seeing it happen so visually is a true testament to how widely the digital era has already seeped into our lives. Despite being a relatively new phenomenon, it’s clear digital and social media plays a big part in our professional and personal lives.
As the conversation went on, we started to reflect on our usage of social media. In the background, between the beeps, we would hear people’s own personal thoughts and experiences of using social media. It’s a particularly prominent topic given the current political climate and the discussion doesn’t take long to reach the point of reflection over what is real and what is fake. For some people, their digital tattoo is like a diary. It’s a way to reflect on their experiences and see how much they’ve changed and grown. For others, they begin to query how much of what they see and in turn what they post, is real. We are in a time where we do have to take care in fact checking our sources, when it’s important to distinguish between fake news and real news.
Conversations About The Digital touches briefly on the Right to be Forgotten, a law passed in 2014, by asking the participants to decide who they feel should be in charge of removing information about any given individual online. It’s clear that as more and more digital natives become accustomed to more and more forms of social media, we are starting to understand and appreciate the consequences of the ways we digitally interact. It’s certainly a learning curve that many people – millennials especially – have had to experience as they’ve navigated this interconnected online world. That is one huge benefit of social media – in many ways it lessens the pressure of social interaction for those who find such situations nerve-wracking or difficult. Having the ability to make real connections with people who may share your views or relate to your life experiences can be really positive and life changing, especially if you feel isolated in the offline world. Perhaps the shift is already occurring, with people beginning to prefer online interactions than more tactile interactions. The most uncomfortable part of the activity is perhaps the elongated eye contact towards the end, although it plays an important role in reinforcing the impact that tangible, interpersonal interactions have that screens do not. When separated by a screen – whether that’s a laptop, a phone, an ipad – it’s much easier to forget that your actions online may have significant consequences offline.
There is undoubtedly much to be said about this ever-growing digital era and as always, the choice remains to what extent you wish to engage with it all. We all reserve the right to have the choice of how much we share online and it’s important to remember we can choose how much time and effort we invest.
If you’re interested in hearing a bit more about the digital world and the way different people interact online, then come along to No34 on Tuesday 13 June. There will be opportunities to take part in Conversations About The Digital at 5.30pm, 6.30pm and 7.30pm. It’s totally free to attend so come along!