Encountering events

Post written by Anna De Jong

Waiting in the deathly long line for the bathroom at the 2012 Sydney Big Day Out I reach for my phone as a form of distraction. My finger intuitively hits the Twitter app, strategically positioned on page one of five on the phone’s desktop. Directly next to Google Maps, Instagram and Facebook. Scrolling through the tweets my excitement and anxiety levels simultaneously increase as it hits me; Foster the People are trending on Twitter – being dubbed ‘best of the #2012BDO’, ‘unexpected’, ‘amazing’. I hadn’t really thought to check them out, this was my designated time to prepare for the headlining acts, entailing a toilet break, and stocking up on much needed food and drink. I leave my strong hold in the bathroom line, making a beeline through the crowds towards my waiting friends – no longer focused on my desperate need for the bathroom, food and drink. They can wait.

The introduction of the internet into the festival’s temporal specificity has served to increasingly mediate the ways people use event spaces (Valentine & Skelton 2008). During pilot fieldwork at Groovin’ the Moo and Big Day Out festivals I’ve become increasingly interested in the entanglements of online and offline spaces, and the ways new spatialities are materializing through these complex entanglements. I propose that for some the assembly of the event, social networking sites, smart phones, crowds, music and alcohol enables an enhanced sense of belonging to develop at festivals, that straddles both online and offline spaces and transforms atmospheres. For some attendees part of the significance of events comes about through the ability to find out festival information and upload personal encounters to Facebook and Twitter during the event.

The introduction of the smart phone, alongside mobile internet and social networking sites, has enabled new ways of doing festivals and experiencing leisure more broadly; tweeting, texting, taking and uploading video and photos.

Through such practices, meanings derived through the emotional practice of uploading also move beyond that of the festivals temporality. As Greggs and Brown (2012) claim, future encounters with images uploaded onto social networking sites bring about memories and emotions that become part of attendees’ identities and everyday lives. Uploaded photos become Facebook albums. Uploaded comments and conversations remain on attendees’ personal timelines, with continued visibility to Facebook friends. Tweets that many individuals interact with and share via retweets and replies become ‘Top Tweets’, which are easily accessible through default settings on Twitter. What can be seen with the top tweet examples below is that attendees were still tweeting about the January 2012 Big Day Out in September of that year. And these tweets were still becoming top tweets. This indicates that some individuals’ continued to draw on this event six months later, and deemed these memories important enough to share online. While others deemed these tweets important enough to re-tweet, raising them to top tweet status.

‘Top Tweets’ for #2012BDO

Asher Mathers ‏@AsherMathers 28 Apr
I would give anything to go back to this day.. Was amazing! #BDO2012

Kristie Lauren ‏@KristieLauren2 19 Sep
@3ree6ixty COME BACK TO AUSTRALIA!!!! #bdo2012 You sung me a song and held my hand….

The participant quote below suggests that there is an element of cultural capital involved through the practice of sharing online. Bragging and sharing stories, photos and videos with friends serves to reemphasise boundaries between those who attend and those who did not.

Anna: Did you share experiences of the day online?

Participant: Stories, photos and videos were shared between friends who were present and were not, bragging about front row experiences and crazy moshing etc. Sharing them is important to the festival because it creates a lot of interest, a bit like a militia advertisement.

(2012 Big Day Out participant, email, male)

Theoretically, encounters move beyond politics and discourse, aiming to get at the precognitive. However through the process of uploading, embodied encounters become subject to memory, normative practice and individual and collective construction (Richardson 2013). While emotional, uploading is a socialised practice, which is self-survillanced by attendees. Images shared online were predominately of musicians, front row positions, original version of artist set lists (a highly prised form of cultural capital if you can get your hands on it), and of attendees posing in groups, drinking and/or dancing. This process holds implications for geographers concerned with gaining insight into the encounter – the embodied dimensions of experience. Through the ability to share a certain type of encounter, others become silenced or forgotten. Aiming to move beyond the universal hegemonic narrative created through each event it was imperative to remain alert to this constraint.

I’ll put some photos on Facebook, depending on how good they are and if any of my friends want me to.

(2012 Big Day Out participant, email, female)
I personally believe social media is a large factor regarding these bigger festival event…I notice many of my younger friends on Facebook tend to use social media to validate their experiences at these festivals. In a sense they are distinctly concerned with portraying ‘the atmosphere’ of the festival, in regards to their image. Thus I believe the act of reminiscing about the actual event especially via social media such as Facebook is not only an important aspect of the festival but for some is as important as the festival itself.

(2013 Big Day Out participant, Facebook, male)

Moving to my final consideration; relationships between online and offline worlds are nuanced, neither wholly positive nor negative. While the sense of belonging facilitated through the festival assemblage may create important long lasting meaning for some attendees, it is in form imaginary. Festival encounters produce different and often conflicting configurations of identity, place and belonging (Duffy 2009). To give rise to feelings of belonging there must always be something that does not belong, that is out of place, alienated. Through the sharing of emotions, celebration, interests and spatial temporality there is always the paradoxical potential for attendees’ to develop feelings of alienation.

Thinking through the entanglements of festival space and everyday life is a central theme of my thesis. The increasingly mobile use of the internet, and the ways it mediates our use and experience of space, has come forth through pilot fieldwork as something I cannot ignore. And is thus something I will need to think through in greater depth.

I wonder what your experiences are with the use of social networking sites, the internet and smart phones more generally while at events?


Duffy, M. (2009) ‘Festivals and Spectacle’, in Kitchin, R. & Thrift, N (eds.), International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography, Amsterdam, Elsevier, pp. 91-97.

Greggs, M. & Brown, R. (2012) The pedagogy of regret: Facebook, binge drinking and young women, Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, vol.26, no.3, pp.357-369.

Richardson, L. (2013) Working at the ambivalence of race: ethnomimesis and the cancellation of St Paul’s Carnival, Social and Cultural Geography, vol.14, no.6, pp.710-730.

Valentine, G. & Skelton, T. (2008) Changing spaces: the role of the internet in shaping Deaf geographies, Social and Cultural Geography, vol.9, no.5, pp.469-485.

About Anna
Anna De Jong is completing a PhD with AUSCCER. Her thesis examines young people’s return journeys to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. More broadly, Anna is interested in the interconnections and entanglements of research concerned with mobilities, festivals and sexualities. You can visit Anna’s profile page, personal blog Becoming geographer and follow her on Twitter @anadeJong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *