I am old enough to remember a time before the internet took over our lives. When I entered college in 1997, I didn't have my own computer, and when I did log on a computer, it was to type my papers from my handwritten notes into a word processing program. For at least the first month of my freshman year, I didn't even know I had a college email account. One day, I sat down in the computer lab in my dormitory, and I watched the kid next to me open up "Telnet." That was when I learned that I had this online depository for important messages, and that I should probably check it at least once a day. When I traveled the whole 8 miles home on holidays or breaks, I had no access to the internet, and *it didn't matter*. My interest/obsession in checking my email only changed, once I met my boyfriend-now-husband in 1999. Once he graduated from college and moved away in the Spring of 2000, we communicated primarily through email, because long distance calls were too expensive. Long distance calls!
I think it's absolutely stunning how technology and smartphones have changed our entire existences. Our phones are the adult version of baby pacifiers. Even though my cell phone number is my business number, and I have five email accounts at the moment, and you know, I'm "busy," I'm embarrassed to say how much I check my phone during the day. It's too much. But I'm trapped into it. I spend so much time answering, posting, making these dumbass Instagram stories, and trying to "stay out there." If you exist in this world as an artist or in any kind of commercial capacity, social media is a game we all have to play, and some days it feels like a race to the bottom.
Most interesting to me is how phones have become our primary way of documenting (and therefore promoting) GREAT THINGS THAT HAPPENED. If we don't post photos and videos or recaps of something we did, then there's no proof it occurred. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have created these ways to make us spend most of our days looking at screens. So, the general public is more likely to experience events and interact with people through their phones, instead of leaving their house and experiencing something in person. It's so much easier to do. You avoid parking, getting dressed, running into someone you don't particularly like, awkward small talk, the possibility that the event will suck and then you have no escape.....we all know the excuses. So, the videos and photos posted after the fact allow you to confirm for yourself if really you missed out, or if you made the right choice to stay home. We have definitely become a society in which we can easily convince ourselves that staying home was the right decision. It's easier to do nothing.
I don't think this is depressing news, or even news. The ubiquity of cell phones have only highlighted a universal truth about human behavior - we make selfish decisions based in our own best interests. The only difference now is it's easier to see, in real-time, who actually showed up, and then, who is supposedly "going" and who is "interested."
Over the ten years that I've produced community tap dance events in Philadelphia, from shows to jams to National Tap Dance Day, I've gotten to a very Zen state about all of it. Here's the thing. The only way you can produce community events like these is if you have zero expectations about absolutely all of it. Read that again. Maybe less than zero. There will be no recognition for the work, definitely no money made, no citation from Mayor Kenney (although that would be nice), no champagne toast (there's no budget for that). Along with the zero expectations is the understanding that the road to producing any kind of high-quality community event is lined with shit. I will spend a full year busting my ass and fighting the city and its robot-bureaucrats and doing a literal tap dance at Home Depot so I can explain to the store managers what tap dancing actually is, so I can get a plywood donation, and then people drop out (read above about self-interest) and there's also the possibility that nobody will even show up to the goddamn thing.
I do it anyway. I do it because I love tap dancing and I love Philadelphia and I love everything that tap dance has given me, such that I want to give something back to the city (that also wants to charge me $1200 for a 2 hour permit). I believe passionately in public art and public displays of art and accessibility to the arts and sharing joy and commemorating people and places that will absolutely disappear if one of us doesn't keep saying them out loud. Someone is listening. I have proof.
Tap Dance Day 2018, City Hall
All photos by Toni Caldwell