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Show Review - Rose Condo

THE EMPATHY EXPERIMENT


How long can you go without glancing at your phone? 

Ok - not now, you’re probably reading this incisive and thoroughly entertaining review on it - but how long do you think? I mean - REALLY. 10 minutes? Half an hour? How long does it take you reach for that tiny little screen in the mornings? Before coffee? Before you go to the loo? While ON the loo? 

Chances are you’re an addict - just like the rest of us - plugged into the matrix without a second thought about how or why you’re doing it. We’ve become accustomed to using tags, hashtags and status updates where we used to have faces, words and conversations. Everything is filtered, everything presented. No-one is really talking to each other. 

Luckily Rose Condo, like a great Mountie from her native Canada has spotted the true effects of this lingering dystopia and has set about trying to wrong this particular right. Okay - she’s doing it on stage in a lab coat and not mounted on horseback but her noble task shouldn’t be dismissed as any less difficult. There’s a lot of screen time to battle against out there. 

Her new show ‘The Empathy Experiment’ which recently won the Best Spoken Word performance at the Manchester Fringe is a truly wonderful piece of work - it’s no wonder that it was standing room only this morning at the Banshee Labyrinth. Thoroughly researched using data from psychology and technology experts and then her own pool of survey results from volunteers, she has really got to grips with why we are so addicted to that tiny little machine in our hands.

Is it for the maps? The time? For Google? Or are you just using it as mirror to check you didn’t smudge anything in the Edinburgh drizzle? (It was raining again today...) Probably not - you’re more than likely using it like all the rest of us. For validation; to feel connected; to get a sense of belonging in a world which somehow...we feel distant from. 

And this is where the Empathy Experiment kicks in. After explaining to us in well crafted and thoroughly pointed verse that we are desperate for our thumbs to just stop the scrolling for a moment (Put it away, Put it away, Put it away now...)  - the session took what can only be described as a revolutionary turn.

WE WERE ALL ASKED TO HAND IN OUR PHONES FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE SHOW.

Yup. In envelopes. Labelled well, collected with a smile - all our phones were in a basket. Actually, two of them - it was a busy day. Fifteen minutes in and our Rose had established enough trust for an audience to part with over ten grands worth of technological equipment. As was quirked from the audience at this point “That’s one hell of a bucket speech...” 

And there we sat. Phoneless - taken for a ‘Brain Breathing Break’ (you know a poet loves a good bit of alliterative work) and for a change we were able to focus on just the here and now. Our shared moment in the room. Community. Just like it used to be. In the good old days. When we got lost with A to Z maps, when we wracked out brains for days thinking of quiz answers, when nobody ever had a photographic record of the grub we had for our tea. 

And I don’t mind admitting - I got twitchy. I checked my pocket on at least three occasions as I went to check the time on my phone. I didn’t need to know the time, I knew my itinerary for the remainder of the show - it was to stand still and watch great words -  but it’s a comfort and a habit to take out my phone. The worst thing is - I was wearing a watch. 

Rose continued on relentlessly with more poetry, more research data, more explorations through a ‘shall remain nameless’ presidential style character who constantly gazed into his magical mirror and a wonderful section where empathy truly ruled. Rose quite literally spent some time in another man’s shoes. And he hers. It really was a touching moment. Eye contact was made - a short but warm relationship established. Human contact was reforged. 

In time our phones were returned and though this part felt quite ‘schooly’ - almost like we were being handed our lunchboxes back (and it did take a while - there were forty two of us after all) it also had a calming element for all. No-one, absolutely no one switched their phones straight back on. Nobody felt the need. 

And this is the real power of this show. It’s not just words. It encapsulates the idea that empathy is not just feelings of sadness or sorrow that things haven’t turned out the way you wanted, but it’s the drive to social action to make sure that they don’t happen that way again. Saying “there, there, isn’t it terrible...” is sympathetic yet useless. Gifting the world forty two hours of shared community time away from the distraction of their phone screens? That’s demonstrating real empathy. 

When I got my phone back it took me ten minutes before I switched it on and a further hour and a half to check Facebook or Twitter. I’ve been ducking in and out of it ever since. But that glorious hour and a half where I unplugged myself - I’ll keep that with me for a long time to come. 

‘The Empathy Experiment’ is showing at Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry St until 25th August (not 12th or 19th) at 11:40am




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