I understand that some of us just get old and tired. Some of us simply wind down and no longer need to hunt for our food or find a mate – our attraction to colors and scents becomes dulled and our desires fade.
But while you sit there at your screen, I want you to know that new and life-enriching experiences are bursting around you like champagne corks and fireworks as most of us sit, medicated and complacent.
As artists, we are awakened in the middle of the night, scrambling for our journals or sketchbooks as the lyrics, dialogue, melodies and images bloom in our heads like lightning. There are times that we would sell or pawn everything we owned for access to a studio or the equipment necessary to help us give flesh to our vision. And, as entertainers, we are here at the club, theater or concert hall, having rehearsed the show a thousand times or more. Having set up the lights and microphones and amplifiers and promoted tonight’s performance out of our own pocket, hearts beating wildly, hoping you saw the handbills, waiting for you to arrive.
Yet, the rest of us remain on our couches, sleepily re-focusing our eyes between commercial breaks. You might even be at the bar right now, with a band, songwriter or poet performing directly behind you, and your eyes are still glued to the screen.
It’s not entirely our fault. We are continually shown, told and reminded every second of every day what a dangerous, filthy, contagious and most importantly — evil — world we live in. And for all the tools, medicine and miracles we have created, our progress has also increased our loneliness and isolation, and heightened the degree and intensity of our need for distraction.
It’s not new. Technology has always unfolded alongside the aspects of self, culture and nature. The advances of modern architecture once made it possible to house the public theatre and for the best playwrights to showcase their work, the harnessing of radio waves gave us weekly dramatic cliffhanger serials, the cathode ray gave us daily televangelism and MTV, and now the mobile internet makes it possible to stay plugged-in, turned on and marketed-to at all times.
I grew up before we had the world’s knowledge base and creative storehouses at our fingertips. If you wanted to read a book, you needed to check it out from the library, and then return it before it was due. If it was out of print, most times you were out of luck. If you wanted to see a film, you needed to buy a ticket while it was being shown at a theater. If you missed it, you rarely saw that film again, unless it was shown on TV, and even then there was no pause button. We had no VHS tapes. We had no Netflix.
I am in no way implying that things were better when I was young, nor am I saying that we need to deprive ourselves of technology in order to have a meaningful life. Technology is, after all, how I am able to speak to some of you now. But we are alive at a time when so much “art” and “innovation” has been allowed to flourish at an overwhelming rate — with no filter and no editors, with no institutions, patrons or benefactors required. For this, our development (at all stages and on all levels) is being stunted by distraction and the consumption of junk. If we expect to grow, develop, adapt and unfold according to our highest potential, we must find a balance between the alternating states of rest and activity, contemplation and action. The sweeping pendulum of prayerful devotion and real-life service or experience surely leads to real wisdom, even illumination. But we seem to be on our knees, stalled in constant prayer, in front of our television screens and computer monitors, drooling and frozen, too frightened to touch the screen or engage in the world around us. Too tightly wound by the stimuli and frequencies of everyday life.