Friday, October 22, 2010

On distraction


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."

8 comments:

besshaile said...

About 2 years ago I decided that I would be a news ignoramus. I wanted to concentrate on my little square of the world. I haven't been this happy in decades! Or this productive.

I get my news. usually long after it is news - but I get it eventually.

Loved the sheepie video. Wish I could have seen you. Missya loveya meanit

melissaknits said...

and they wonder why I don't have cable.

sandir said...

I have a real thing about texting or talking on the phone at dinner. Call me old fashioned, but I still think when you choose to sit down at dinner with someone, or a group of someones, you have an obligation to at least pretend to be interested in present company. Showing more interest in your phone than in the people on either side of you is just plain rude.
My new habit when out with groups of over-connected folks is to ask that everyone take whatever pictures they want within the first 5 minutes, then put the phones away.
And, being the curmudgeon that I am, I have busted people for pulling out their phones at the table.

Kim S. said...

I see I'm in good company amongst the other commenters here. I've been on a "news diet" for over a month now, and I don't miss it at all. And don't even get me started on people using their phones at the table!

TGL said...

This quotation really captures it for me: "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." Thanks, Clara!

Serena said...

I had just read Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" before reading your post, and both strike me as beautiful meditations on the power of nature to make you stop the gears and the constant movement and just be. But I could go on and one without getting to the point here which is Thank You Little Clarita! I don't know how you found my project, but you did. Gracias!

Margaret said...

I am hoping *you* were the one at dinner without the techno-appendages! As for me, I have no cell phone, have the lowest possible satellite options for television (so I can watch PBS from time to time) and rarely watch the news, or even listen to it on radio. Instead, I choose peace...within as well as without!

Anonymous said...

Though I am an ardent admirer of your books, I came to your blog today via Mason-Dixon Knitting. Also, though I was not at Rhinebeck, your video captures the feeling of a wool festival beautifully. (and much better than I did with just a camera at the much smaller Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival.) So thank you very much.

However, I am not surprised to learn how exhausting it was for you, especially juggling all that equipment. I feel as if when I began documenting the day at OFF with only a camera I was too excited, and by the end of the day too tired and on sensory overload. So, that was when I decided to go to the barn to just "appreciate the sheep." It was a soothing and calming experience, and maybe the best part of the day!