I attended the “Pageant of the Masters” the other night. The best of the six I’ve seen. And the silence of the vast crowd in the midst of these stunning larger-than-life facsimiles and the soundtrack of a pitch-perfect orchestra once again struck me.
Silent they were, but not still. Despite pre-show announcements and staff members outside the entrance to the amphitheater taking cameras hostage, smart phones were active. A woman in front of me checked her messages roughly every 10 minutes until I asked her to please put the phone away. A phone in the darkness of a theater is like a flashlight, terribly distracting. Another was filming the show, regularly resetting her angle, her disregard of the protocol prompting another audience member to admonish her. She didn’t care; she kept on. Who were we to stop her?
Earlier that day, at a café, a father sat down nearby with his roughly 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. He used his laptop, the daughter watched her iPad, and the son played with plastic warriors. For over half an hour none of them spoke to each other; they only occasionally shifted position to munch on a muffin: high-tech, definitely low touch.
I am no Luddite. My first Apple 2e computer went into use in 1984 and there have been many more since. I am second to none in my reverence for what technology allows us to do and the pleasure of instant access to information and loved ones. I am crazy about my Droid and my Kindle and my MacBook, all of which allow me to visit friends and family when the spirit moves me without sacrificing income or connectivity.
However I fear we have subjugated ourselves to our equipment and lost the pleasures of watching, thinking or talking. The artificial has become the norm. We are so over-stimulated and over-connected that we cannot engage with each other, or ourselves, without manual or visual aides.
As I sat at the Pageant beneath a canopy of stars and in the communal hush of the theater, I was reminded that some of us, perhaps too many of us, can no longer inhabit the moment nor inhale the solemnity of the cerebral without having to document and share it all. I imagine other audience members were texting or posting to Facebook the very thing they were watching. Sad, isn’t it?
That thought was punctuated the next night at the closing ceremony at the Olympics, where every single athlete seemed to observe the festivities through their phone or camera lens. This would seem to me to be a seminal and glorious moment to be fully present, and to capture in their personal memory banks.
Some moments are meant to be enjoyed as they happen. Without witness. Without commentary. They call it mindfulness these days. A new name for a centuries-old experience that we ought to reclaim.
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered City Hall for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com.