Yesterday evening I encountered an affecting modern day act of communion on Brighton Beach.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself it was.
Like hundreds of other people, I had been drawn through darkening streets towards a fiery orange effulgence. Down on the beach we stood alone or gathered in small groups to watch a mesmerising sunset, framed rather obligingly by the rusting armature of the West Pier.
It felt good, being part of this act of mass gratitude for an unexpected gift of late summer warmth.
Then I noticed the cameras and the phones held aloft and pointed westwards. Almost everyone was photographing the sunset, not seeing the sunset. And I wondered if what I was witnessing was actually a collective failure of the primary experience, to use Michael Foley’s phrase, rather than a poignant coming together of day-trippers, office workers and conference delegates.
So I scrunched back up the shingle, slightly despairing that a primordial human experience had been reduced to a photo opportunity.
But as I watched the scene in front of me, the cameras and smartphones glinting in the late afternoon sunlight, I was aware of a palpable sense of fellowship right there on Brighton beach. We had gathered in a sort of digital communion.
That’s a nice way of looking at it Jim, I told myself. Yet I still wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to advertise my own complicity in all of this. So I slipped my Canon G10 into my jacket pocket, picked up my brief case and walked off into the real sunset.