Event attendees sometimes focus on their phones to enjoy the moment instead of focusing on the events itself. Photo: Reuters

By Mazhun Idris

Long before photobombing became legit cool and selfies descended into a subculture of self-obsession, there was such a thing as "living in the moment".

A collage posted by ESPN on its @SportsCenter Twitter handle on July 23, two days after Argentine Lionel Messi's memorable debut for the American football club Inter Miami, appears to tell the story in — you guessed it right — pictures!

In the first shot, Messi is down on a knee, seemingly tracking the run of play as he contemplates his next move. Right behind him in the front row of the audience is the former England star, David Beckham, seated and watching the action unfold with his hands clasped.

The rest of the spectators are on their feet, with several of them – including Beckham's celebrity wife Victoria – capturing the moment on their smartphone cameras.

The second photo is of LeBron James, the NBA legend, on the verge of scoring in a game. Almost the entire phone-toting audience in the backdrop is ready to go click-click, while a cropped inset of the zoomed face of an elderly fan shows him capturing, Zen-like, this precious moment in the game with his eyes.

Beckham and the unflustered gent at the NBA game are possibly a minority in an increasingly camera-obsessed world eager to record moments, be it a performance or a sporting event, rather than live in the moment.

Dr Muhsin Ibrahim, a media and communications expert at the Institute of African Studies and Egyptology in Germany's University of Cologne, sees this as a desultory transition from one distraction to another.

Some event attendees try to enjoy both the real events and the moments on mobile phone. Photo: Reuters

"The rise of mobile phones came at a huge social cost. With smartphones, we are seeing an endless surge of digital subcultures," he tells TRT Afrika.

Joy of here-and-now

According to MTV blog, the bestselling British music artist, Adele, admonished a fan filming one of her shows in 2016 for focusing on the smartphone screen instead of enjoying the concert, having paid to attend it in person.

"You don't have to watch through your phone. I am actually here now. I would really like you to enjoy my show, because a lot of people outside couldn't come in," she said, triggering a run of jokes surrounding the dos and don'ts of attending an Adele gig.

At social events, it isn't unusual to see only a few attendees calmly immerse themselves in the joy of simple moments. Most seem busy with their handheld devices, half distracted from the overall experience.

But why do people willingly engage in the habit of extending screen time in the midst of an enjoyable event?

For Huzaifa Baraya, an undergraduate student of mechanical engineering at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria's Zaria, recording events with phones is a way of saving for posterity pleasant memories in digital bits.

"After capturing these memorable moments, I share these with friends and family, and post on my social pages," he tells TRT Afrika.

On whether he really remembers to use the photos and videos stacked on his phone memory, Huzaifa says, "I do and, in fact, I sometimes repost old photos from months or years past, as a throwback to a particular joyous experience."

Digital gluttony

Even with the infinite capacity of our digital albums to help share memories with friends and family at the click of a button, researchers in modern media consumption have serious reservations about the trend.

Many events attendees capture the moments to share on social media. Photo: Reuters

"In general, smartphones are prone to messing with our social existence, by its capacity to disrupt our social bonding, privacy, and family time," warns Dr Muhsin.

If people like Huzaifa regularly reuse old photos and videos as a means of digitally revisiting experiences of the past, there are others like Muhammad Kamil, a student of library and information science, who treat a digital library as a keepsake rather than a means of constant reusing and sharing.

Kamil admits to using only 10 per cent of his media library — the rest is just hoarding of memories, perhaps never to be brought out of digital cold storage.

At the other end of the spectrum is Aisha, a student of business administration who uses "up to 80 per cent" of her camera rolls, although she still prefers immersing herself in events while they happen instead of being obsessed with recording these.

This brings us to the so-called "deadly sin" of the digital age: the phenomenon called digital gluttony, or the ceaseless desire to accumulate stuff in our digital media banks.

Our smartphones are full of both created and downloaded media files, mostly photos and videos. From memes to infographics, music and movies, the cache in our phones may size up to a mobile digital archive.

No wonder smartphone companies mostly single out camera resolution and photo quality when advertising new device upgrades. This invariably refuels our obsession with capturing and hoarding visual media files.

As a wise old digital sage would exhort in this age of the ubiquitous smartphone camera – live in the moment, but don't get left behind in the race to record it.

TRT Afrika