'Digital Witness' by St. Vincent
A few weeks back, as I was ritually marauding through mounds of unread e-mails and unchecked rss items, barely staying afloat in the sea of the virtual, St. Vincent dropped “Digital Witness”, an infectiously danceable skewering of mindless absorption in the age of ones-and-zeroes.
Compressed into its three minute runtime is enough post-internet anxiety to rival that other technophobic screed of 2013, Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor”; both attempt to hold a mirror to our concepts of identity in the light of all-you-can-access infotainment, soul-sucking social media, and all those other frequencies mercilessly flooding our brainwaves. Annie spells it out with the authority of an Orwellian despot: "I want all of your mind".
Like "Birth in Reverse", it’s driven by a fear of cultural stasis. Our reliance on technology is imagined as one big, self-satiating feedback loop (“If I can’t show it, you can’t see me” is the 21st century If a tree falls in the forest…) At its most cutting, “Digital Witness” equates our increasing online interactions to that of cheap commerce: “Won’t somebody sell me back to me?”
But Clark paints her target pretty wide, and her argument feels kinda dated. The anti-technology crusade has gone through its umpteenth iteration by now, yet we march on unscathed, and the vivid dystopias often imagined always seem to fall short of the reality: Twitter, the once-feared tool of banal oversharing, went on to spark a revolution. Selfies, the much-derided Word of 2013, may have communicative benefits after all. And television, Clark’s main malign here, is actually pretty good these days.
Annie is engulfed in the digital swamp too, of course, because she’s human: In a recent interview with NPR, she fesses up to compulsive Wikipedia spirals and a tenuous relationship to the world beyond her computer screen (“I’m such a city girl that I don’t know anything about nature without Google at my fingertips”—you and me both, A.)
At around the time St. Vincent released the track, Crystal Cove, the latest iteration of Oculus VR’s virtual reality headset, was being unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boasting improved clarity and three new degrees of physical articulation, it promises to make the digital world an even more enticing destination to get lost in. Tech site Gizmodo wrote of their impressions in a glowing article, titled: "I Wore the New Oculus Rift and I Never Want to Look at Real Life Again."
I can’t wait to try it. I hear it looks just like a window.