Art is not about communication. It's about communion. Rafael Lorenzo-Hemmer, IdeaFestival 2013
Let's hear it for getting real about the time we spend staring at screens instead of living our lives in three dimensions. Robert Lanham writes that while we're peeking at our phone, our stories too often grind to a halt.
On average, people spend 119 tedious minutes staring at their cell phones each day (and that's according to a UK phone provider). That's 43,435 minutes annually. Thirty days a year. The month of June. Sure, a portion of those minutes is spent doing useful things. But most involve time-killing activities like playing Bubble Safari or pinning photos of cronuts to our Pinterest walls. It’s a substantial chunk of the year for our plot lines to stand still....
...Where do we start? Anyone can tell you that brief detoxes and binge-and-purges diets don't work. So here's a novel idea, if we're truly ready for the backlash to begin, let's do something revolutionary! Let's try a restaurant without reading what JimBo67 thinks about the tacos on Yelp. Let's skip that important article 'Who's Cuter, Boo or Colonel Meow?' If someone forgets the name of an actor in some dumb movie, let's just let it go. Let's skip taking that old timey-looking Instagram pic of our navels. Let's show up at a bar, alone, without a phone and talk to that girl or boy who approaches us, curious, because we're not staring at a screen. Do you need to be on call 24/7? Sure—if you're a brain surgeon at a veterans' hospital. Guess what: you're not.
One of the reasons I've begun putting the phone away, especially on the weekend, is that I've come to realize that this glass diversion, like all idols, never calls me outside myself. Like Lorenzo-Hemmer, I'm of the opinion that the point of the creative act is to bridge divides.
In the past decade or so, we've sorted ourselves into areas of interest, into little digital communes, and now, thanks to our phones, we never have to leave the confines of our individual world views. I know I don't leave mine often enough. But as Louis C.K. points out in this video, also posted by Latham at the Awl, these diversions excise shared emotions from our everyday lives, exchanging the here-and-now for One More Thingtm. It's no wonder a certain anxiety sets in. Despite my best efforts, I invariably return to the thing at my fingertips out of impulse, habit, addiction.
The sad truth is that I don't need information. What I need is meaning.
What Louis C.K. intuits, what Oliver Burkeman is saying when he's critical of positive thinking and happy talk, what Francis Spufford identifies as HPtFtU (yes, Google it) in his recent book, what Maria Konnikova suggests when she talks about actively attending to, what Lorenzo-Hemmer knows while creating his art, what Tom Chatfield says so well in this essay at Aeon - is that while the torrent of information never ends, the need for meaning is always present. Like many people, I continually fall into the trap of thinking that One More Thingtm will piece together the factual puzzle and solve the whole damn mystery.
But you know what? Solving mysteries requires detectives - and for fewer answers, more questions and a willingness to just be for a while.
One of the reasons I enjoy working with the IdeaFestival is that, by design, it operates from different ground. The thing that inspires, completes the puzzle, provides meaning can arrive from any direction or discipline. As the festival founder Kris Kimel points out, we don't do tracks. The happy surprise comes during those moments throughout IdeaFestival week when I realize the connection I made wasn't the one I was seeking.
- Image: Amber Sigman