BEIJING SNAPSHOT: As Olympics ebb, smartphone sync | Technology

By TED ANTHONY – National AP Editor

BEIJING (AP) — Smartphones were shining. The irony echoed.

As part of Sunday night’s closing ceremony of the most locked down and sequestered Olympics in human history, a carefully curated crowd packed – well, dotted, really – the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium as a warm and humanistic spectacle unfolded.

The show itself, directed by renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou, was bursting with color, music, energy and even joy. It felt disconnected from the COVID-compartmentalized Winter Games which, despite its insistent theme of “Together for a shared future,” separated people by the thousands – inside and outside its calibrated bubble.

As the closing ceremony drew to a close, something interesting happened. It was the kind of moment that has become commonplace in the post-lighter-to-concert era.

Prior to the ceremony, official crowd preparers had urged those in attendance to, at some point, pull out their phones. “When the Olympic flame is about to go out,” the host said, “raise your phone, turn it on, and rock to the music.”

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And that’s what they did, these carefully selected representatives of carefully selected Games, these people who had gone through the security checks and the swabs of their mucous membranes and all sorts of other doors and gates and checkpoints to gather here for the event which is meant to symbolize the planet coming together in the spirit of excellence and friendly competition.

In The Era of The Phone, humanity negotiates a new relationship with itself. But as we clutch our remarkable and terrible devices, whether they sway in unison in an Olympic stadium, or sit alone and reach out through the ether, are we together but still apart? Or separated but still together?

The smartphone, barely a teenager in 2022, has – like many teenagers – sucked most of the oxygen out of the room. And as these Bird’s Nest Olympic stalwarts held their phones skyward to become totems of warmth and unity against the cold and COVID, a Chinese song titled “You and Me” played and the words “One World” were displayed in fireworks, it was easy to wonder: is this now the best connection we could hope for?

Ted Anthony, director of new storytelling and innovation at AP’s newsroom, is AP’s former director of news for Asia-Pacific and former news editor of the China and covers its seventh Olympic Games. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/anthonyte

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