Browsing through GOOD magazine's online archives recently, I stumbled across an inspiring excerpt from a TED book by filmmaker Tiffany Shlain in which she talks about her family's weekly "technology Shabbat." An excerpt of the excerpt:
In his book The Sabbath, published in 1951, the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel describes the Sabbath as “a cathedral in time,” a concept that resonates when you unplug from technology. During our technology Shabbats, time slows down. Albert Einstein said that “time is relative to your state of motion.” With all this texting, tweeting, posting, emailing, we are making our minds move fast, which in turn accelerates our perception of time. It seems like there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t end thinking, “How did it get to be 5 p.m.?”
When my family unplugs, time starts to move at this beautiful preindustrial pace. And what is the one day you want to feel extra long? Saturday. So now our Saturdays feel like four days of slow living that we savor like fine wine. We garden, we ride our bikes, we cook, and I write in my journal. I actually read. One-thing-at-a-time. I can have a thought without being able to immediately act on it. I can think about someone without being able to contact him or her at that moment. I have found it’s good to let a thought sit. It changes when you don’t act on it. For one day each week I like letting my mind go into a completely different mode. We are also able to partake in all those activities that seem to get pushed aside by the allure of the network. While being neither orthodox nor Amish we do drive a car, turn the lights on and answer a land-line for emergencies, so it’s a modern interpretation of a very old idea of the Sabbath. But we try to be as unavailable as possible except to each other and our children.
Tiffany Shlain, director of acclaimed documentary Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology...is an award-winning filmmaker and founder of The Webby Awards. She created disruptive innovation both in the way she made Connected and the way she is using the social media itself to further the conversation about its subject: “connectedness” in the 21st century.
Somewhere in my adult life I have developed an intense discomfort with having my picture taken, and I doubt I would be any more relaxed with a professional photographer more accustomed to shooting models and celebrities pointing his camera at me. James Anthony recently experienced what it was like to work with the world-famous Rankin as the photographer preps for a project later this year called Rankin Live! in which he will shoot 1,000 British citizens and almost instantly exhibit the pictures, then give the proceeds from the sale of those portraits to charity. Anthony lived to tell about what it was like to be in front of the intimidating piece of equipment you see in the picture here and the man who wields it:
I am nervous – to put it mildly – but Rankin is remarkably adept at
putting me at ease. His sense of humour is, by all accounts, as quick
as his eye for a good shot.
In Anthony's case the results are quite hot, and you can see for yourself in the gallery here. I really do wonder how models do it sometimes, how they can smile so naturally and not look, as so often in my case, like a deer caught in headlights. Maybe they just have a photographer who can make them laugh.
While I was doing my customary pre-breakfast blog-scroll this morning, a column by John Naughton in last week's Observer caught my eye. Naughton takes a recent article by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic as his starting-point, a piece in which Carr worries out loud about his inability to focus for long on any given text, citing Google and the easy access to information on the Web in general as the root cause of his newfound ADD. I have to wonder if it isn't a matter of discipline, however. I am a bona fide internet junkie, spending several hours each day just surfing around, but I am able to turn off the computer from time to time for the purposes of giving a book or a film my full attention. Naughton also reminds us that when Tim Berners-Lee designed the Web the computer scientist had his own poor memory in mind and wanted to create something that would help. It's exactly the moments when I'm trying to remember an actor's previous work or a particular album title that I'm most grateful for that giant repository of data online. As for concern that the Web breeds poor memories among its users, Naughton looks to history:
But people have worried about this since... well... the Greeks. In the
Phaedrus, Socrates tells how the Egyptian god Theuth tried to sell his
invention - writing - to King Thamus as 'an accomplishment which will
improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians. I have
discovered a sure receipt [recipe] for memory and wisdom.' To which the
shrewd old king replied that 'the discoverer of an art is not the best
judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practise it...
Those who acquire writing will cease to exercise their memory and
become forgetful... What you have discovered is a receipt for
recollection, not for memory.'
It's true that few of us can sing epic poems from memory anymore, but admittedly the pool of people who can appreciate Homer in the original Greek these days is small anyway. As humans we leave certain things behind as our technology changes, and new things take their place. We can remain selective about what works for us personally and what doesn't, and it's even fascinating to watch which new tools take hold while others never quite catch on. As a firm believer in the power of associative thinking I get excited when the Web encourages me to connect seemingly disparate topics, leading me down paths I would not have seen otherwise. And then I share my thoughts with you, and here we are.