Note: I do apologize for those readers who aren’t interested in this sort of thing, but I would be bringing an occasional post from my University of Edinburgh course blog to this space. Not too many, hopefully. Just the occasional one that seemed interesting after rereading it.
Levy’s “Information, Silence and Sanctuary” presents an interesting case for contemplation, specifically allocating time and removing distractions for extended periods of time spent to simply think. The article draws heavily from Thomas Friedman and his situation with the taxi ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris is revealing. With six different communication channels between them, neither the passenger nor the taxi driver spoke with each other. This analogy is meant to illustrate the growing fragmentation of modern life where everything vies for our attention and so nothing gets it entirely. This is unfortunately often true.
We are inundated with devices, blips, bleeps, vibrating contraptions and other interruptions into that occasional frolic into divine contemplation (or at least docile nothingness-just sitting there). We are pulled, almost literally, from our slumber with clocks, whistles, and all sorts of other noises designed to sever our connection with that world (that is their reason to be; they need to garner your attention). However, Friedman’s analogy seems a little simplistic to be anything other than anecdotal.
First, there is a chance that the lack of communication between the driver and Friedman was due to a lack of a common communication channel between them. There is an outside chance that Friedman does not speak French or is hesitant to do so. Regardless of whether this is true, it illustrates that language can be a communication barrier, one that many of these devices will serve to mollify a bit.
Further, how prone are we to talk to strangers regardless of our close proximity to them? How often does one strike up a conversation on the subway or a train? It seems that impromptu communication is much more prevalent on flights, but I suspect that has something to do with social interaction assuaging the impending fear of death foremost on everyone’s minds. Regardless, there are social factors here stunting communication well beyond the scope of technological barriers. A stare out the window or closing one eyes can signal disinterest in conversation just as easily as an iPod.
I suppose my ultimate point is that if communication devices are used in conjunction towards one ultimate pursuit, one singular point of reflection and observation, then cannot that indeed be contemplation? Is it jarring, a severing, an interruption if all devices (which are merely extensions of self) are focused on one pursuit? Isn’t all art based on this? A painter with a multitude of brushes and colors weaves them interdependently and does not consider them distractions. They are communication devices.
I have no desire to downplay information overload as it indeed a real concern, one that plagues me as well at times (a few restless nights can attest to that). However, what I believe this represents is that we are still in our infancy of technological acumen. We see the tool as a thing and not as a tool; we are beholden to it and not the other way around. If we appropriate it for our own purposes (Twitter, iPhone, etc. as research tools), then we cease to see it as an interruption because it is more of an augmentation. How much is too much? That is indeed a valid question, but I suspect that we would be able to tolerate more “interruptive” devices if we aligned them with our overriding pursuits.