Is Staying Home the New Going Out?

Welcome to the future, where you can go see any cultural event you please without changing out of your jammies. All sorts of outside events like concerts, readings, sports games, and press conferences are now being held for your solo viewing pleasure on the internet. We know, we know, it’s not like watching events in real-time on a home screen is that new of an idea. Baseball is the American pastime, after all, and most people watch it from home (or from bars).

It may seem low-tech, but we can count the number of major concerts to be streamed live online on one hand — the YouTube Live show in November 2008; Dave Matthews Band on Hulu last summer; U2 at the Rose Bowl back in October. As more and more cultural events that used to be reserved solely for those willing to venture out from the safety of their living rooms are being offered as online streams, we wonder if something is lost behind the plastic, or if it will be easy for us all to trade the discomfort of being off your couch for the discomfort of literally never seeing other people.

The online streaming trend seems to be catching on, however. This past Saturday, we attended the National‘s concert at BAM‘s Howard Gilman Opera House, which was also broadcast live over YouTube, a quality that hung over the show like the giant, frightening camera boom that filmed it. The band repeatedly thanked their sponsors, which was appropriate but slightly awkward, and seemed very aware of the fact that they were being broadcast live to a seemingly endless audience. Before the start of “England,” one of the many songs the band played from their new and fantastic High Violet, the boys stopped to speculate about their overseas YouTube viewers.

[Either Bryce or Aaron, we couldn’t tell] Dessner: For anybody watching in England, this is – if you’re still awake. But you’re probably not awake. [After some discussion…] It’s like three in the morning.

Matt Berninger: Just the really lonely people.

Dessner: Hi, lonely people. Don’t be lonely.

Berninger: We’re here with you. With our songs… Losers.

Well, ouch. The band hastily shuffled to make up for the jab, but it was already awkward.

The question isn’t really ‘is it lame to watch from your computer rather than actually going to a show.’ however (or is that the question?). The question is, was it better to see them live than it was to see them on YouTube? Could internet activities ever fully replace real-world activities? Well, to start with, it was a sit-down show, and chairs were so plushy and our seats were so far back (not the highest balcony, but second-highest) that it was pretty much like watching it from home. Except that we couldn’t see as well — the high-def close-ups they showed on YouTube let us count Matt Beringer’s beard hairs — and we were super far away from the fridge. So there’s that. But there is something to being able to say that you saw a band or artist you love live, or at least we think so. And there was certainly something lost in translation viewing the National through a screen — a tenuous quality of camaraderie perhaps, the loss of the ability to look back at the room and see everyone else singing along, even if you couldn’t see the stage too well. And if the concert had been a stand-up, jump up and down with your friends affair, it would have been another matter entirely. You just can’t mosh alone.

Concerts aren’t the only cultural events that are beginning to pop up in real time on the internet. HTMLGiant’s Live Giants series features authors giving readings in real time from their homes or elsewhere, with a q/a after for commenters. Incidentally, Flavorwire favorite Sam Lipsyte will be giving a digital reading in this forum next Thursday. Somewhat unusually for digital events like this, the Live Giants readings are not recorded or available after the fact, so much like “real” readings, you have to show up to hear the gospel. Except you can show up to your living room in your pajamas.

Other events that can be watched in real time on the internet while you play solitaire on the other half of the screen: cricket matches, apologies, the president. Pretty soon we’ll never have to go outside again. Progress or laziness? Tell us in the comments.

Watch the National play “England” below.