Friday, October 22, 2010
In a recent post on his blog, Alain de Botton wrote about the incessant distractions of contemporary life. I was thinking about it last weekend when I was in Rhinebeck, New York, for the NYS Sheep & Wool Festival. I was there as an observer, author, collector of wooly things, and reporter for Knitter's Review.
Having written up the event several years already, I was at a loss for how to bring a fresh eye to a familiar event. Video, I decided, would be the medium this year. I got a Flip video camera and started playing with it. I wasn't entirely sure I could pull it together, so I also brought my regular digital camera for backup. And because I wanted to share updates throughout the weekend, I also brought my cell phone. Mac users, don't get started—yes, I realize an iPhone would've served all those purposes, but I needed far better resolution.
Anyway, that is how I found myself at the festival last weekend, navigating tens of thousands of people, juggling from camera to video camera, back to camera, then to phone, then to video camera, then back to camera, for nearly two solid days. I'm proud of the results, but the process was so deeply fractured and distracting that I kept gravitating back to the sheep. They, it seemed, had the answer. They knew no better than to live in the present. Whereas even during dinner with four friends one night, I noticed that all but one had their cell phone at the table.
Which brings me back to Alain de Botton. He writes, "The obsession with current events is relentless. We are made to feel that at any point, somewhere on the globe, something may occur to sweep away old certainties—-something that, if we failed to learn about it instantaneously, could leave us wholly unable to comprehend ourselves or our fellows. We are continuously challenged to discover new works of culture—-and, in the process, we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds."
I do sometimes wonder just how much simultaneous experience our minds can hold before we start to shut down. And I also see how, in our insatiable quest to feed on more and more, we are not giving each experience its own deep and meaningful consideration. Like jam, the less we have the thinner we spread it.
I have no grand declarations to make, no promise to live my life differently from this day forward, but this is where my thoughts are today. I'm watching the natural world around me go dormant for the winter and thinking I'd be well advised to follow Alain de Botton's suggestion: "Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting."