Experience is All

8th May, 2015

In last weeks’ blog we discussed leisure and identity. This week we take that up again but from a slightly different angle.

The world worries about many things: disease, military conflict, fundamentalism, public services. Many also worry about the dehumanising impact of new technology (and with the new twist that this might be literal with machines taking over the world – see the book The Second Machine Age and my blog ‘When Machines Rule the World’). They worry that communities are being lost and that human interaction is suffering.

But our view has always been that face-to-face human contact is as strong as ever. And, together with electronic communication there is, if anything, more social interaction than ever (some may question whether this is a good idea but we will leave that aside for the moment). At the same time the desire to take part in or experience large scale ‘live’ events is if anything more important in an increasingly virtual world. So, as we do more online so we want to do more in real time and real geography. Often, of course, distance deters the actual presence at an event and perhaps more so the high prices that such ‘performances’ command.

This interest in live events helps to promote remote viewing of the occasion either via the ‘old’ technology of TV (and hence the huge sums of money media companies are prepared to spend on them) or new media channels. The desire to participate in such communal events is not deterred by not actually being able to be there, especially when that experience takes place in a ‘public’ place such as a pub, a bar or a stadium (the FA Cup final watched in the one of the teams own stadiums) or a live Opera watched in a cinema.

Nowhere is this trend more noticeable than in the world of football – the global sport that transcends national boundaries. There are Arsenal, Barcelona and AC Milan fans all over the world who gather together in colleges, bars, restaurants and homes to watch ‘their’ team. Many people describe themselves on social media as an “Arsenal fan” and/or wear their team’s shirt when out and about.

The role of social media in sharing thoughts and emotions is not only significant but a reminder of the increasing integration of the real with the virtual.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht a professor at Stanford and a Borussia Dortmund fan explains how fans are not purely spectators but experience something that is “absolute”, that it is “the thing in itself” that dominates. This is the philosophical concept of da Ding an Sich as first identified by Immanuel Kant in the 18th Century.

Why should this be so? Gumbrecht suggests that it’s partly because of ever more choice in life (something we have written about extensively in the past) – you are freer to choose your values, your behaviour, your consumer purchases, your sexual orientation. But he argues that such freedom can de disturbing – “increasing individuality can be experienced as loneliness and lack of social connection”. Being a fan can mitigate that feeling.

While all this has been about football, the same holds true for other ‘events’ too. Utilising these new forms of community and the “thing in itself” is something we all need to consider.