On a glorious summer evening of what’s supposed to be the busiest weekend in August, the sleepy town of St Rafael in Ibiza resembles a De Cirico painting. The streets are empty, and the bouncer of the island’s trendiest dinner spot, El Ayum, sits bare-chested outside of his swanky joint, lazily eyeing the camel above the entrance.
While the rest of vacationing Europe is out having drinks and starting dinners on breezy terraces across the Mediterranean, Ibiza crowd is off to its 8pm siesta, getting ready to come to life again just before midnight. As you speed down a deserted highway, strangely non-descript faces of famous DJ’s loom at you from the gigantic sun-bleached posters, like a surreal remake of Apocalypse Now.
Come midnight the clubbers will gather to worship these un-photogenic demi-gods, as they groove behind their computers, bewitching the crowd with hypnotic sounds. And instantly the social digi-verse will come atwitter with pictures of party and fun and never-ending youth that the island bestows for a fleeting moment on those who jump head-first into the infinity pool of its myth.
A disco, a football match, a concert, an Olympic game – any public event gets augmented digitally these days, transmitted, digested, blown up, snapped by a myriad of little smartphone lights, each of us eager to nail the moment, to capture it forever and to post it right away, instead of living it and seeing it fully.
Nowhere is this fact more remarkable than in Ibiza, an island hippies once came to forget themselves, and to find union with nature while basking in the yellow sunset since then hopelessly identified with Café del Mar CD covers.
Just like its sunset, Ibiza today is both a real island and an illusion. Thousands of wannabe party animals flock here to drink from the fountain of life’s ecstasy, and wind up exhausted, thrown in with the herds of rather unglamorous and mostly drunk tourists, and not quite sure if they had as much fun as they were supposed to. Thankfully, the social media is there to make up for the fun unlived, by allowing party seekers to post pictures and witty status updates, and ultimately replace the less than exciting vacation with a digital memory of the best time in the world.
Sometime in the early naughties a friend, who proved since to be a visionary on every matter except his own bank account, gave me a curious advice about the live music business. “You have to focus on the kids in the audience” he said, “ They are the real show. You and me might find it incongruous, and depressing – but in a few years no one will care about the artist on stage. The kids are there to have a good time, and they want to be the center of attention. It’s about their experience, their connection, them, them, them. Just watch and see.”
Being a star of your own 2.0 show is much easier in Ibiza, where the DJs are hardly anything but bookmarks – faceless pins dropped on the iMap of fun. And the fun projected, edited and broadcast into the outside world of digital lore can be so much more triumphant and ecstatic than the actual pain of moving it among a throng of competing bodies, each intent to be the star of the night.
A recent Harvard study found that we feel best when we talk about ourselves – that, in fact, “ the regions of the brain that are activated by talking about oneself are also responsible for the thrills of food, sex, money and drug addiction”. How fitting it is, then, that an island that excels in all of the above pleasures, would add the new digital “me 2.0” vice to the list.
For some peculiar idealistic reasons the Harvard researchers proceeded to conclude that this phenomenon serves an evolutionary purpose, providing human beings with extra motivation to form social bonds. “Some studies show that the more you self-disclose to someone, the more you like them, the more they like you..”
I doubt there is anything evolutionally rewarding about a whole bunch of people posting about themselves at the same time – which is the undisputed case of digital megalomania in which we are all partaking today. The sad irony of this happening in a place, where one is supposed to be empowered by the energy of the crowd, to merge with it so as to rise above the petty individual existence and become a part of the ecstatic whole… a dream that hippies brought to Ibiza half-a-century ago, and that now has dissolved into a pre-historic curiosity of the analog age.