With Jazzfest on the immediate horizon, the Thursday night Kermit Ruffins show at Vaughan’s, a shack-style bar in New Orleans’ arty Bywater neighborhood, drew a larger-than-usual crowd. Don and I staked out a place toward the front, near the New Orleans police barricades that keep the enthusiastic fans from crushing Ruffins, a peace-and-dope-loving, trumpet-playing institution now made famous on the HBO TV show Treme.
When Ruffins started to blow, the bar lit up. Dozens of tiny strobe lights danced across the musician’s face as everyone and their brother captured the moment on their smartphone cameras. Facebook statuses were updated, text messages were sent. A couple who had been dancing together to jukebox tunes pulled apart, each one lost in their electronic world.
Now I love my iPhone as much as anyone. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing I check before going to bed. But the extra lighting and constant recording turned what should have been a joyous passage to Jazzfest into just another social media sideshow.
This isn’t the first time recently that I’ve examined my relationship with technology. As a travel writer, I love to share where I’ve been and where I’m going, with friends and readers. This week in New Orleans is no exception. My Facebook page and Twitter feed are full of delectable food photos, random observations. It’s become my default mode on the road. But is that really a good thing?
I spent most of the 1990s here in New Orleans, working as a reporter at the Times-Picayune. It’s where I learned to slow down, to look at sources as people with a story, instead of a quote to be inserted. The town runs on relationships, not Facebook friends. A decade later, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it.
But I can try, at least for an hour or two. At Vaughan’s, I tucked my phone away, shut my eyes and bathed in the sound of the music. I could feel my husband behind me, protecting me from the swaying crowd, now moving with a force fueled by the beat. Sweat formed on my forehead. I pressed my empty drink cup against my chest, allowing the half-melted ice cubes to cool me down. I allowed myself to feel, instead of document.
This is what seeing a band used to be like, what a date used to be like. What life used to be like. And it’s something that no Instagram image can capture.