Friday, April 22, 2011

When Technology Is Awesome (Instead Of Sucks)

I'm not a technophile by any stretch. I'm not, despite what some of my friends might tell you, a Luddite either.

I love things like BitTorrent for giving me the ability to get hundreds of live shows from my favorite musicians. I hate texting - with its inherent passive-aggressiveness - and fact that everyone seems to just disappear in to their hand held device in lieu of actually interacting with people or maybe even reading a book.

I love that I can burn mix CDs instead of spend hours making a mix tape. I hate that iPods are ruining music and the way we listen to it. (And they are, don't even try to argue that point with me.)

I love Facebook. I hate Facebook.

The point is, I do love a lot of the technological advances and how they make our lives - or at least mine - better. I don't love it just for technology's sake like so many people seem to.

But there are some moments that happen as a direct result of 21st Century technology that make me just think, "Wow, this is so awesome."

I had recently fallen in love with a song on YouTube that I found due to a link from a singer-songwriter from Manchester that I met in Harlem one night. (Full story about that meeting here.) The song is Train Driver by a band called Becca and The Broken Biscuits, who are also from Manchester (I think). I really haven't been able to get enough of this song it is just so brilliant and catchy.

I've also been taking guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music the last year or so. I really wanted to learn how to play Train Driver. And because Becca has a Facebook page I was able to drop her an email and ask her to give me instructions on how she plays it. She sent me an email with some chord shapes, her tuning for the song and where she puts the capo. Then I took it to my guitar teacher who was able to translate guitar-speak in to something a bunch of amateurs could figure out.

So I got to fall in love with a song because of YouTube, by a Manchester, England band that really never would have had a way to share it with the rest of the world without already being an established act with a record label. I was able to get the songwriter to help teach me how to play the song because I was able to contact her through the internet.

None of these things could have happened fifteen years ago. How would I have ever heard a song that doesn't get played on the radio where I live? How would I ever have kept in touch with a random singer-songwriter from overseas that I met in a club one night in New York, for him to tell me about another cool artist? How would someone get in touch with a performer to ask them how they play their song?

Even better, after turning my guitar teacher on to this piece of music - he fell in love with it himself and told me he saw why I sought out Becca to learn how to play such a special song - and getting the class to learn it, I put up the video camera to record us playing it. I then loaded it on to YouTube and sent the link to Becca so she could see it.

Her response was beautiful. She loved that a group of people thousands of miles away learned how to play her song and said she was moved.

And the internet age had a lot to do with making it happen.

But at the end of the day it was still about human connection. No, I hold no odd delusion that Becca and I are now really good friends or something. We've never met in person, but she has been very sweet to a random fan who emailed her. And that's pretty cool.

But even though technology helped to facilitate this chain of events, it was at the end of the day about people connecting with people. Al Baker played a set of music in a club in Harlem that blew me away, I went up to tell him how much I loved his music, he joined my friend Joe and I at our table, I bought him a bunch of beers (I had won a bunch of money earlier that day on a TV game show - yes, really - and was celebrating) and he gave me his CD.

Al and I stayed in touch on email and Facebook, he eventually posted a link to Becca's video and I listened to the song over and over and over. I emailed Becca to learn the song, took it to my guitar class, my guitar teacher loves the song too, we share it with other students in the class and many of them really get in to it. Becca's YouTube hits almost double. (Though, to show what a stupid place the world can be, Becca's got a couple thousand hits compared to, say, Rebecca Black's gazillion or whatever).

We as a class then get the opportunity to show an up-and-coming performer how much we love one of her songs by playing it for her. Several people start asking if it's possible to bring Becca to visit the Old Town School. The whole thing warmed my heart and made me feel great about my fellow humans.

It's all about how we use our modern devices. Do we disappear in to our iPhones, never looking up to even see others? Do we spend twelve hours a day in a dark room playing online video games or ranting on message boards - or worse, comment sections of articles?

Or do we do something else? Something that makes us feel more connected, in a much more real way.

Below is Becca and The Broken Biscuits' Train Driver video, then the video I filmed and sent her. (Better to click the link at the top of each screen and watch in YouTube's site, these videos never fit on my blog page)