Human beings are naturally inclined to seek connection and relation to others. People want to feel part of a community and have a sense of belonging. In a world that is changing rapidly because of technology’s influence, it is inevitable that the way people relate to one another will change as well. In the past, people did not have the internet, cell phones, and social media to keep in contact, so they stayed in touch the only way they could – by writing letters, making efforts to see one another in person, making occasional phone calls, etc. However, we now have the luxury – or in some people’s opinion, the detriment – of communicating with others constantly and through many different mediums. I see this shift from more spread out instances of face-to-face contact to more frequent instances of virtual contact as a sort of trade off. Perhaps we do have less in person encounters with people than we do online, but we are still communicating and connecting. We are just connecting more frequently on a mental level. Of course, this changes the way we go about our relationships and the rate at which they develop, but relationships are still meaningful and connected. In fact, I feel as though I see people in person more than I would without my ability to contact them at a moment’s notice and meet up with them.
When it comes to the arts, there is no doubt in my mind that they still have the capacity to bring people together. Now more than ever, people have such immediate access to the arts that they love via the internet, television, radio, social media, etc. Moreover, since art is so portable now, people can instantly share and discuss their interests and even voice their opinions on a public forum. Yes, it is different that a person does not necessarily need to go see someone live in concert in order to hear their music or watch their performance, nor do they have to visit a museum to see their favorite painting. However, they now have the incredible option of being able to immerse themselves in the arts from behind their computers, as well as in person. It seems to me that we simply have expanded opportunities.
In Gene Weingarten’s article, he expresses a sense of shock and awe over the fact that the people rushing through a train station would not stop to notice the world renowned violinist Joshua Bell playing. Regardless of the fact that Bell has “been accepting over-the-top accolades since puberty,” not that many people seem all that interested in what he is doing. Weingarten likens Bell’s presence to that of a ghost, since no one seems to see him. He then goes on to say, “Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.” I think this statement is sort of unfair. People at that time of the morning have places to be. We live in a country where, whether we like it or not, time is money. Do I believe this is a good thing? No, I do not. Regardless, this is how things are. People are under immense pressure to make deadlines and get all the taks they need to do done. If the people walking through the train station did not have one million things to cover on their checklist of responsibilities, perhaps they would feel less pressure to rush past and would stop to marvel at Bell’s artistry. These people were not taking a leisurely stroll through a random train station; they all had somewhere to be. Weingarten even mentions that those who did have extra time to spare did stop to appreciate the beauty that was occurring that morning. If others had the time, they would be more likely to do the same.
I love what Sherry Turkle has to say about the importance of adaptability. She says, “In our time, health is described in terms of fluidity . . . What matters most now is the ability to adapt and change.” Currently, the relationship between the arts and digital technology is changing rapidly and with no stop in sight. Therefore, adapting is necessary. Again, I do not think the fact that I can listen to virtually any song I desire whenever I want makes the experience of it any less valuable. Rather, I feel more closely connected to the music I love because I have the incredible fortune of becoming intensely familiar with it. I remember being in third grade and really wanting to listen to a particular song. I went on America Online and tried everything I could to look up the song and listen to it, but the best I could find was a thirty second clip. I remember being so frustrated that I could not just hear a song that I wanted to hear. Now, I can put any song I would like on, and it truly makes me so happy that I can do so.
Furthermore, the connection Turkle draws between the Hindu culture and how technology is connecting us is so fitting. She likens the Hindu belief that peoples’ behavior at any given moment is being affected by hundreds of gods and/or goddesses to the idea that “communication technologies have caused us to ‘colonize each other’s brains’”. This comparison is brilliant in my opinion. It is a prime example of the point I made earlier that humans will find a way to connect no matter what. Humans are very mentally in-tune with one another and will most likely continue to connect on an intense cerebral level as technology advances further.
Jaron Lanier has a less enthusiastic view of our heavy reliance on computers and worries that “it promotes a new philosophy: that the computer is evolving into a life-form that can understand people better than people can understand themselves.” While this view is totally valid and probably has a lot of truth to it, I prefer to see our use of technology as a responsibility and a power that we cannot abuse. I believe people need to actively remind themselves that these tools can be used as a convenient extension of ourselves but that we need to hold on to our humanity and the concept of being able to survive without them. I cannot think of any other solution than for people to be held personally responsible to strike a balance between the use of computers and technology and to still celebrate and cherish life as a natural human being.
An example of this balance is the attendance of music and arts festivals. Tools such as the internet are used to promote the event and get people to buy tickets, but the actual festival itself is a very human experience. Personally, I went to three music festivals so far this summer, and coming together with thousands of people for the sake of art felt even more exciting for me than ever because I felt so connected to the music I was about to hear live. Why? Because I have sat in my room alone listening to these artists on my computer, and now I was getting the chance to appreciate this art in person. Moreover, knowing that all these people came to the same place as me from all over the country for the sake of keeping live music and art alive was extra rewarding in this technologically driven time. We were willing to live outside in a tent with the heat, bugs, unpredictable weather, and whatever else came our way, all so that we could celebrate being human and enjoy music which we grew to love separately, together.
To sum things up, I believe that Turkle’s philosophy of fluidity is an important thing to remember when navigating the confusion caused by technology. Balance is also key. It is our duty to ourselves to stay in touch with what makes us human, in my opinion, and it is the only way to stay afloat in a sea of uncertainty about where our rapidly changing world will take us.