Monday, August 26, 2013

I Forgot My Phone

In his book Outside Lies Magic, John Stilgoe notes that many folks growing up in 19th century-America cultivated greater visual acuity than we do today. They actually developed and practiced the art of looking, discerning hues and shades both for the pleasure of aesthetic refinement and for the practicalities of daily life. Stilgoe offers a largely class-bound analysis, summoning notions of chromatics lectures offered during an afternoon tea. Yet he also calls forth images of farmers and drovers who read the clouds with wary appraisal, searching for storm-sign.

In our more media-saturated age, we seldom attune ourselves to the nuances of nature, choosing instead to distill the world into a stock of abstractions. We might adjust our flatscreen controls to "vivid" and crank the volume to "11," but only because our expectations overwhelm the subtle gradations of things. Presence, the experience of "being there," is harder and harder to recognize, or eventually to miss.

Charlene deGuzman knows something about this. Her video expresses the frustration I have felt in gatherings large and small when friends edit our interactions to check messages, to post comments, or maybe just to find something more interesting than the conversations that bind us. Of course I found myself doing the very same thing last night at home with my family, checking my phone while my daughter was sharing the news of her week. I stopped; I don't know if she noticed.

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