Pledge to the Virtual Flag?


Picture it: A giant Washington, D.C., hotel ballroom, a couple hundred people, and that persistent buzz that precedes every conference, as organizers try to wrangle and the audience willfully ignores them. Then over the din, a recorded voice asks everyone to rise for the singing of the national anthem. We all stand, and I look around for the flag, which I can't find until I realize that it's appeared at the front of the room. On a screen.

Playing in a loop.

In all its giant, HD glory.

I should say, first, that this was a fantastic event featuring major speakers (and yes, me). So the event coordinators' fine judgment was not in question. They were just being current, and I seemed to be having an existential crisis about it.

It might've been Whitney Houston's Super Bowl version of the anthem playing, but I was so thrown off by the whole display that I couldn't really focus on it. The point of view in the video was swinging and swerving, as though the cameraman (or woman) was doing one of those glamor shoots where he runs all around getting different angles and shouting things like "Yes! Right there! Just like that!"

But this wasn't a Real Housewife we were watching; it was the flag. The Stars and Stripes. The old Red, White, and Blue.

Now, it's possible I'm biased. We said the pledge and sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" every morning at Stillmeadow Elementary School. And I did play Columbia, "Gem of the Ocean"—the heroic female representation of the United States immortalized in song, in case you aren't from the 19th century—in the third grade play. So I do have some long-held love for Old Glory that's only deepened by the fact that I'm a naturalized citizen. But while I may know all her nicknames, I'm hardly one of those people with an American flag in every window; patriotism is like godliness, I think—the more you talk about it, the less I believe you.

Why, then, did this video bother me so much? The image was still majestic, and we were all experiencing it together. But it felt like watching the President on The View—it's cool that it's possible, and you get why it's necessary, but it just feels wrong. As Americans, there is perhaps no greater symbol of our connection to each other and to our country than that piece of cloth, and if it's too much now to find or produce a real, live flag, well, why even say the pledge or sing the anthem at all? Let's all just like America on Facebook and get on about our business.

If that sounds like Chronic Tech Fatigue Syndrome, it probably is. Sometimes I think if I hear the word "technology" one more time, I'll die of boredom—it's good, it's bad, it's social, it's advanced, it's exploding, it's exploding our brains, it's...taking over the world! Whatever it's doing, it's here, and I'd venture to say, for the most part, it's positive. Some aspects have flourished so fast that we don't yet have a handle on them—we may soon decide, for instance, that iPhones aren't proper pacifiers for toddlers—but that'll come.

There are some things, though, that technology shouldn't mediate—a few special parts of human existence that I hope will always be best experienced in real life. We all have our own list, I bet, and mine's simple: first meetings, baseball, and believe it or not, the flag.


Today's photo is courtesy of the U.S. Embassy-Montevideo.