Surplus Culture


I am watching a jam band at the Mt. Tabor Theater, an old, retrofitted concert hall that smells like the boys' locker room. The instruments are in tune, the band looks the part, though their movements are a bit stiff, and the light show is every bit as distracting as it's intended to be. Yet I find myself entirely unmoved, bored, not even riled up enough to buy a second beer. I'm sitting at a table in the back, watching everyone's stuff, and they appreciate that. I'm here with the camera crew. Pat and Monica, friends from the bar, brought me to this Friday night gig, because they're working. Pat is on the roving video camera, and Monica is shooting stills. They offered me a free concert; of course I said yes. These are the advantages of being a part of the Creative Set. The bartenders don't even care that my hand isn't stamped.

So here I am, writing words out of thick air, while an unknown band bangs out original tunes, and my friends fill gigabytes of hard drive space recording it all. So much cultural detritus is emerging from this two-hour event; I wonder how many other patrons are creating data on smart phones in this room right now?

Without a doubt, this is evidence of a massive surplus. So much energy is going toward the preservation of this totally unmemorable event in the historical record. Electric guitars, imported beer, live streaming digital video, critics blogging silently on touchscreen phones, we're burning fossil fuels for all this, you realize. How crass.

For how long will people continue to access the data we're making tonight? A month? A week? The videographers will use this for their portfolio, as will the band, who might also be recording the audio to sell or give away. Tweets and text messages sent by distracted audience members will create mundane, touching sentiments that leave traces in memory between pairs of people. My blog post will help search engines learn. And we'll all have some kind of shared memory that will last us a little while. I guess that creates a certain edifying camaraderie. People need that.