An Artist’s Case for the Moderation of Technology / by Sam Abelow

An image of "Contentment," oil paint on 36x22 canvas.

Many of us have become enamored by technology. So what is it we have forgotten about Life?[1] The profundity of Life exists in relating to the surroundings of the natural world, as well as the personalities we encounter.[2]

Scientific advancement has provided us with smartphones, social media and endless entertainment. Aspects of Life’s potential are forgotten with the attention-grabbing proclivities of illuminated screens.

Therefore, in this essay I will not try to validate my views without a scientific concern. This is not out of laziness; I ignore such methodologies in order to emphasize the very view attempting to be presented.

(I urge you: take it one step further and print out the rest of the article.)

The effort here is to push against the materialistic lens and the scientific world view which is unnatural — because it is trained and narrowly focused. The products of such an approach are self-evidently beneficial. Technology allows for enhanced communication and has saved relationships, business deals, and no doubt the lives of many in danger. But the capacity of technology is not always utilized optimally.

The excessive technological stimulation causes many of us to ignore the Life which exists in slow and open moments when we are able to absorb each other and the world around us. Recognition of the downtempo pace of a pre-technological existence is a needed counterbalance.

Flashy screens, moving images, endless songs to stream and infinite news stories are all alluring. Widely accessible content, from comedy to calamity, becomes addictive to our minds which are designed for curiosity. Please, in the days after reading this pay attention to your own habits.[3]

A technological asceticism is not the answer. We may not want to become stoic about our devices and stubbornly keep a decade old flip-phone, or toss out our devices all-together. The more favorable solution is moderation and recognition of other types of activities, free from internet and media. It is integral that we find a balance between the rapid introduction of connectivity and entertainment, and the organic slowness, the quietness that our ancestors knew as Life.

 

The Mystic on the Lawn

On a cool July night, I decided to sit upright on the grass and breathe. Fireflies continuously lifted off the ground, sparking off and disappearing like fireworks. As my breath became slower and my gaze softer, my surroundings became luminous and phosphorescent fields of silver overlaid the deep shade of grass. That was my subjective experience.

Indoors, people I know and love watched television and listened to Podcasts in separate rooms. I don’t criticize this, but merely choose to point out that a gratifyingly entertaining and completely pure experience of subtle and natural effect was also available to them just outside the door.

The habit of resorting to stimulation via a device blinds us to the eternal options for an evening activity that can be found in our natural surroundings.

 

Neuroscientists Yelling at a Bar

Other times, a meditative quietude is undesirable. What about the so-called “party” we find in modern existence? In Williamsburg, Brooklyn a yuppy turns 25. He invites all his favorite people to a lounge. Loud music blares as the majority of his highly educated and good-looking friends sit on stiff wooden chairs.

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A neuroscientist and a historian are reduced to fools as the yell loudly in fits of erudition (a comedic stroke occurs as lofty notions are strung about in the bedlam of the bar). Everything around the pair moves quickly. A continuous flow of overpriced cocktails are sipped. Rarely, a few people rock side to side along to the automated beats of a pop song, but there is nothing loose or authentically and instinctually expressive.

A night designed for celebration, which, lacking all sense of proper aesthetic, or even practicality, is limited and empty of something ineffably human. In the plethora of historical examples of what a gathering can or should look like, we have somehow found ourselves in these loud bars, restaurants and clubs, where the photograph of the experience outweighs the experience itself!

Someday youthful partygoers will be grandparents who, unlike earlier generations, will not be reminded of experiences from a photograph, but rather remember taking pictures of it all as the experience itself.

 

Are we so caught in documenting our lives through little cameras and screens, for social media points, that the experiences themselves are lost on us? Pose this question to yourself and your friends: What can we do to reclaim the present moment, the presence of our consciousness, away from the phone, and in a space we share?

 

I will restrain myself from a diatribe against millennial culture, or, even worse, an angsty complaint about how capitalism reduces and commodifies even our most intimate human necessities. The megalithic internet companies bid for our attention, encroach on our lives by exploiting our natural proclivities. But we cannot blame them — or the larger economic system. The evolution of our larger cultural functioning begins with individual responsibility and refinement.

 

Slow-Cooked Consumption

Lost ways of decorating homes, establishing social centers and entertaining guests seem apt for recovery in a time where it’s too easy to get swept away in the needlessly over-simplified and fast-moving interactions with others, seemingly influenced by the pace of technology. Of course, there are niche movements exemplifying these values, but existing out of the cultural spotlight.

Forms of decoration and entertainment that is seemingly lost to the mainstream today is painting and artisan crafts, which call us to access the static and bored state of existence that our ancestors enjoyed. These were our original forms of expression and entertainment. Slow to be created, slow to be consumed.

Works of art — painting, ceramics, decoration and aesthetic pursuits including landscape design — do not move, nor are they flashy or eye-catching. They demand a slow and focused attention to be fully experienced.[4] They require active engagement, as does a friend or an object of prayer and devotion. They unfold before you, the longer you gaze.

Painting and the decorative arts offer a great deal to the modern individual hoping to reclaim their capacity for deeper contemplation and feeling. I believe a healthy mind is one that can sit still, that can embrace slowness. The qualities of Life that reside in stillness and quietude are plentiful.

As for parties, creative individuals must rethink and reshape the atmosphere of such happenings. It is possible for people of to transcend the current scene the average party-goer has found themselves in and discover elevated forms of communing.

There is no doubt that certain movements are heading in all sorts of new directions. New Age spiritualists get together and beat drums and chant; magnificent dinner parties, with with the preparations, provides a backdrop for meaningful or joyous conversation.

 

I pose a question to you and your friends:

What are the ways in which technology intrudes or enhances social happenings?

What are possible ways a gathering could be elevated through an aesthetic awareness?

 

Are nights when binge-watching an entire season of your favorite show makes sense? Sure. On another night it may make sense to sit quietly and listen to Mozart. Then, notice the variation in mood which these activities provide.

Technology is a tool. If used consciously, and not as an outcome of habit, we can use it to diversify the way we interact, and broaden the activities with which we engage. Rather than remain infatuated, using the device endlessly, we should use it to our advantage. And if we can become responsible and conscious in that way, entire generations won’t blame Google and Facebook for a life stolen away by screens. There is a path towards using technology to transcend and evolve towards a wider range of experiences, both in solitude and socially.

 

Footnotes:

[1] I define life in this essay as: The successive series of moments which act physically and psychologically, related internally and externally, as we move through time until death. In other words, I refer to an individual person’s life. But in the same sense I refer to the inherent psychic proclivity towards wholeness and development, which, although often derailed, seems to be the tide that pulls each of us along. As do the phenomenologists, I believe that although there is a measurable objective world, life is experiential and always interpreted through the subjective self. If one can recognize the power of this interpretation and make it conscious, then one’s fulfillment and flourishing can be enhanced.

Therefore, I write the word “Life” with a capital “L” in order to emphasize a particular philosophy of what living and human existence is and how it is experienced. This isn’t necessarily to make the common esoteric, but because my definition of life may be particular.

 

[2] Natural surroundings and people are made of psyche and matter. Psyche is synonymous with the antiquated world of spirits, and the ever-mysterious role of consciousness in the subjective experience of life. Matter is that which is body, form, earth and so forth — equally mysterious to scientists today.

 

[3] I urge readers to observe their own habits rather than seek to validate a notion with some Harvard “study.” Watch yourself act daily.

 

[4] I could now write for some time on what “enjoyment” is. Many ask “Did you enjoy your meal?” or, “Did you enjoy your stay,” and we create a narrative — a divided list of reasons underneath “Yes” or “No.”

Often we make memories around those afterthoughts. Once an experience has passed, the mind can classify it in any way. This is why I do not believe myself, or other people for that matter, when they say they “enjoyed” a particular passage of life.

Only in the present can we deal with any variety of experiences, including pain and joy with the embrace of a lover, taking the orgasmic ejaculation of reality and slurping it down, even though it has a gooey and has a weird texture, it ultimately comes from the beautiful phallus of some transcendent order.