In most stories, there’s a letter being posted… or a phone ringing… or an email being sent. Characters are communicating and – whatever the era – they’re using the latest technology to facilitate that interaction. Not that it’s only novelists and playwrights who place this kind of technology at the heart of their work. Songwriters do the same. Here’s a playlist of the songs that explore our use of Twitter and the internet etc. in the most thought-provoking way.
- MUSIC FOCUS: Pop-punk, emo, alt-rock and pop.
- ACTIVITY FOCUS: Explore the significance of technology within some brilliant songs. Then, consider how the ideas you come up with feel relevant to the texts you’re studying at school. How does technology impact the action/feelings etc. within your course texts?
10. nothing, nowhere: ‘Pieces of You’
‘And sometimes, I listen to your voicemails
Need something to fill the void’
Technology is often celebrated as a symbol of human progression. Sometimes, though, we can see how actually it serves as an impediment to the kind of development we should be experiencing as individual beings. Here nothing, nowhere underlines how trapped he’s become by the voicemails his partner has left him. Without this technology, he’d be moving forward from this moment that’s been captured by his answering machine. Technology, though, has locked him in a virtual groundhog day. Ugh.
9. Stone: ‘Leave It Out’
‘So you got your eyes on your ex girl’s social media that’s fine mate but I promise it ain’t healing ya’
Not too many years ago, if offered a magic power, a common wish would have been to see inside people’s minds/lives in a way that human beings just could not. These days, everyone has that power. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t feel as good as we thought it might. Like nothing, nowhere, STONE highlight the negative impact of technology. It’s too easy to use it as a tool to watch someone else’s life when really you’d be better of spending that time focusing on your own existence.
8. underscores: ‘Spoiled little brat’
‘Take, take a picture, hope it lasts long
Strictly business, shut the backlog
Make a living, sing a sad song
Yeah I live for the attention
I got a problem and it’s not my fault
Why would I pay it any mind?
I’m a pop-star baby, pop-star baby’
You’ve got to love social media’s role as an equaliser. You don’t need a record company’s backing to define yourself as a pop star in 2022 – instead you’re able to take control of your own destiny in a way that wasn’t possible not so long ago. Of course, the flipside is that we’ve become obsessed with defining ourselves via social media. And then there’s the reality that believing you’re a pop star doesn’t necessarily make you one. The dual nature of technology is absolutely worth noting – yes, it’s a tool that could help you fulfil your dreams, but it can also act as false evidence that your dreams are real.
7. Cameron Sanderson: ‘Kid In An Adult Bodybag’
‘Now everybody is captured so let’s just keep it recording
I heard the financial state is local government whoring
And we’re more interested in checking if Chris Rock is still touring‘
The advances in technology have offered us the potential to know everything about everyone. But how many of the minutes that we spend thinking about, for example, Chris Rock, would we actually have dedicated to people or issues closer to us if that technology didn’t exist? Where in your course texts is the available technology somehow acting as a barrier between the characters and their immediate surroundings? And does that same technology also block the characters from taking stock of their lives? If we’re constantly recording, where are the opportunities to reflect? In the texts you’re studying, the technology might seem – at first sight – like a symbol of humanity’s growing power. But the ironic twist might be that, in reality, the effort it takes to keep up with the non-stop input means we are no longer taking time to assess and analyse that input – we are not in control of it the way we once were. Consider whether this is true for the characters in the texts you’re studying.
6. Cassyette: ‘Sad Girl Summer’
‘How could you hit up your ex with that text and the dirty talk?’
In many ways, the available technology does make it easier to communicate, but it’s also pretty reductive. Interact with a person face to face and it’s not just your words doing all the talking. The look in your eyes, your tone of voice, your body language – all of these things feed into the multi-layered messages zapping back and forth between you and whoever’s listening. A text message strips everything down to basics. Which feels just about fitting given the base motivations at play in Cassyette’s lyrics. Where in your course texts does technology act in this reductive kind of way?
5. Future Palace: ‘Dead Inside’
‘Delete me out of your memory‘
Long gone are the days when a person might have known all their best friends’ phone numbers off by heart. If you lose a person’s contact details in 2022, then your chances of finding them stored in your actual memory (the one in your head) are very tiny indeed. To delete someone’s digits from your devices, then, is a pretty quick way to squeeze that person out of your life – and the speed with which we can essentially ‘delete’ people invests our lives with a feeling of impermanence. Our digital existence is fragile in a way that a human life never used to be. Can you see this idea echoing around the pages of any of the books you’re studying at school?
4. Baby Queen: ‘Want Me’
‘I swear to God, I’m not insane
But all the flags are red
If I’m lying on the floor
Typing your name into the internet‘
Baby Queen’s use of the internet echoes nothing, nowhere’s relationship with his voicemails. The technology in each case may offer the potential for communication but there’s nothing social about lying on your bedroom floor watching someone else live their life on the other side of a screen. Where in your texts does technology not quite serve the purpose a character might have hoped it would? In what ways is the available technology linked to feelings of disappointment, isolation and even madness?
3. Kate Nash: ‘Agenda’
‘There’s people marching in the street
Look what we made from just one tweet‘
Used well, social media can help us to achieve great things. It makes communication between likeminded individuals possible and enables a sense of collectiveness. Where in your course texts does technology offer a character a sense of true power? Or a feeling of connection that perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise have in their lives?
2. Taylor Swift: ‘You Need To Calm Down’
‘Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out
But you say it in a tweet, that’s a cop-out’
With ‘You Need To Calm Down’, Sound of Pen’s favourite pop star, Taylor Swift, highlights the difference between communication in ‘real life’ and communication via virtual platforms. Most of the shouters on the internet would never dare to shout so aggressively if they found themselves on a stage in front of actual people. And so, quite rightly, Taylor underlines the fact that, really, if you’re going to deliver a strong statement, you absolutely have to make yourself accountable for it. Technology has given people a space in which they can avoid taking responsibility, where they don’t need to have the courage of their convictions. And so they feel free to let their hurtful comments loose. Where in your texts does technology serve as an accelerant for pain and upset?
1. Jax: ‘Victoria’s Secret’
‘God, I wish somebody would’ve told me
When I was younger that all bodies aren’t the same
Photoshop, itty bitty models on magazine covers
Told me I was overweight’
Many of the songs on this list encourage us to recognise how untrustworthy technology can be. Yes, we can do so much with it and, yes, we can definitely use it as a helpful tool within loving relationships. However, it’s also true that our shiny mobile phones and one-dimensional social media accounts allow us to deal with people too impersonally and too briefly. Jax’s brilliant ‘Victoria’s Secret’ highlights the layers of deceit inherent in image-altering technology such as Photoshop. This technology facilitates the presentation of a reality that looks so real and yet is ultimately fictitious. Where in your texts can you see technology being used to communicate false truths?
Think about how any of these ideas feel relevant to the texts you’re studying. Please let us know about any connections you make – we’d love to publish them here and give you the credit you deserve! Your observations don’t need to necessarily link specifically to the thoughts we’ve shared above – we want to hear about ANYTHING related to the presence of technology in your GCSE/A-Level texts!! Maybe you want to comment on the impact of the phone calls that interrupt at such awkward moments in ‘The Great Gatsby’! Or perhaps it’s the absence of technology in, say, Burns’ poetry that seems particularly significant! Whatever tracks or texts you’re thinking about, we would to love to hear ALL OF YOUR IDEAS!