Ah, the mosh pit.
It is the very essence of what it means to be a young person in the post-modern age.
It’s where we go to escape the digital confines of the internet and reconnect with real people in a somewhat primal fashion.
Entering that place – the rough, sweaty, exhausting pool of bodies at the foot of a rock concert stage – reminds us that, while we each are individuals, we are also linked together in a group called humanity.
We are not isolated.
The mosh unites us.
At least, it used to.
In recent years a toxic combination of social media sites like Facebook and mobile phones have corroded the mosh.
Once upon a time, the mosh pit was the place to drop your defences and amass as a human mass.
It was the place to taste others’ sweat and possibly taste your own blood. There you would haul your fallen, unknown compatriots up off the floor and then knock them down again in a rough story that allowed you to be antagonist and protagonist all at once.
Everyone would leave at the end, wet and bruised, ears ringing, shoes lost, shirts torn. But we all felt good as we waved farewell to the new friends that we would probably never see again. There was a sense of satisfaction, like we’d reasserted our position of physical relevance in the universe.
The mosh was proof that we’re not all turning into robots.
It’s not like that anymore.
I was recently at an Arctic Monkeys show, under the stars in Stanley Park’s glorious Malkin Bowl amphitheatre.
The crowd was large, but as the band took the stage, it quickly became apparent that most attendees were more interested in the fact than the act of being there.
To my surprise, people had hauled along their tools of isolation and were rapidly constructing invisible Facebook Walltents on the dance floor.
As the music began the entire crowd seemed to be on their mobile phones updating their Facebook statuses or posting some inane witticism to Twitter.
The mosh became mush, devolved into a static crowd of trendy looking Sims.
Some hands held mobile phones aloft where they gently swayed like beacons in a motionless sea.
At first, this seemed to be a modern tribute to the ancient pothead ritual of raising a lighter during a ballad.
In fact, they were working hard to capture a video clip or photo to serve as inscrutable online evidence of their attendance.
Many that didn’t hold their devices heavenward bowed their heads. The cold blue glow of a cell phone screen lit up their faces as they solemnly disengaged with reality to get all interactive with someone else somewhere else in the social media space.
Despite the tight-packed conditions in front of the stage, physical contact was clearly discouraged. As I danced, disdainful glances were cast against me. (Too bad for the folks I bumped into that there’s no “block user” command in the real world.)
At one point, I looked back at the crowd and found an unending sea of dead eyes.
Then it struck me: nobody is here. Certainly, dotted through the audience were pockets of motion where others like me dared to respond physically to the Arctic Monkeys.
But otherwise the scene was one from the Twilight Zone. If I’d run back through the crowd and found every figure to be a hologram, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
This was an army of automatons anxiously awaiting the last bar of music to fade so that they could scurry back to the anti-social sanctity of their social media worlds.
And too soon (for me, anyway) it was all over. The band literally fled the stage and the silence of the forest poured back like a dark, thick syrup into the bowl of the amphitheatre.
Then as the crowd quickly dispersed, a new sound rose.
It was like the scattered, frenetic sound of an insect swarm’s feet fleeing from a predator.
In fact, it was thousands of fingers tapping on mobile phone keyboards, tweeting, texting, instant messaging, and updating online statuses.
Heads were down and no one was talking as figures stumbled and bumped into each other on their way to the gate.
And that was how the crowd of ghosts floated away into the darkness of the trees.
It was then I recalled the lyrics from a song, “Reality TV,” by the Infadels:
“You talk to the numbers/And text phone the others/Why go out when you can just stay at home?”
If video killed the radio star then Facebook has clearly killed the mosh pit.
Such a pity.
First published in the Yukon News on Friday, October 2, 2009.