Is technology destroying art? Does anyone care?

This is the naked die of a micro something or other.  We shot it last month for the semiconductor company that makes it. Its brethren will go into some sort of consumer product that will make some person's life more efficient.  And the promise of that increased efficiency should have meant more free time for that person to do things for themselves.  Play with their kids,  wash the car, see a movie,  or do art.

But it isn't working out that way.  Society is using the increased efficiency to get more out of the next person.  More lines of type per hour.  More lines of code per day.  More products more quickly to the marketplace.  Cameras that autofocus faster and have aquarium modes. More profits to the shareholders. More stuff.

Cellphones seemed like such a good idea.  They would free us from the umbilical cord that tethered us to the desk or to the house.  But it didn't really work out that way.  Faceless corporations found that they could get more "free" work out of their workers by using a virtual umbilical cord that keeps workers connected to their offices nearly continuously.  And injects a sensibility that there's duty to make the job one's life.

And please, make no mistake, when I say workers I don't mean it in the old communist way:  as a description of the uniformed factory people who made things with their hands or dug for coal.  When I say workers now I also mean the lawyers and executives and nearly anyone who has a job working for anyone other than themselves.

I've watched the progressive strangling of people's time by new technology.  Executive dads sitting in the bleachers frantically jabbing at Blackberries with their thumbs trying to get in front of a new "issue" while little Johnny makes a soccer goal that dad doesn't catch.  I watched three investors glued to their iPhone screens in the middle of a play and wondered why they'd taken the time to come to the theater.  You could quiz them and they wouldn't know whether they sat thru "Oklahoma" or "Romeo and Juliet".

Everyday I watch couples at restaurants staring into their screens instead of each other's eyes.  They seem afraid that they'll miss something.  That the world will introduce the next miracle and they want to be in on the genesis and get the announcement.  So much so that they miss all the important stuff.

So, efficiency was supposed to give us time to exercise and relax and invent and enjoy and do our own art.  But what it's really done is increase the work week of the fully employed, robbed them of their own un-contracted leisure time, convinced people that a salaried position means 24/7 contact (and mindshare) and left them ragged and unable to concentrate on the present and the  here and now.  It robs them of living life as it's happening.

And the ability to process great volumes of information hasn't done much for us either, as far as I can tell.   May be it's good for predicting sales or elections.  Data mining can't stop hurricanes or earthquakes but endless data availability progressively robs us of our privacy and financial security.

But none of that really bothers me.  I understand better than you might think that the nature of western man is constant innovation---for good or bad.  No, what bothers me is that we've used all these tools to turn our lives into something that's measured based on productivity.   Volume.  Throughput.

I heard a great actor speak two days ago.  He defined art.  It's not about which lens renders hairs on the kitty photo the sharpest or who's got the best toys.  And it's certainly not measurable.  He defined art in this way:  Art teaches us what it  is to be human.

But this is a problem because art is notorious for being unmeasurable.  And in a society that values ranking and measuring above all else it gives one the feeling that art, which teaches us what it is to be human, is being replaced more and more by craft just for the sake of craft.  And the craft is powered more and more by precision, performance and production and less and less by ideas and translations of human experience.

It starts in school.  We, as a society, need to give as much weight to the study of art and art history, music and drama as we do the math and science courses.  We need to make sure our kids are as content literate as they are process literate.  I can assure you that, as technology becomes more and more pervasive the real value; the "gold",  will be content.

Multitasking?  I've got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in......


Anonymous said...

You are right on the money. I work for a large computer company. For most of my career they pushed so hard that I only saw my kids for a few hours on the weekends. Took a big health emergency to open my eyes. But don't worry, there's a thousand ways to rationalize working too hard. I think you're about to read them. Good luck with this hornet's nest.

Emory Dunn said...

Now if only we could go back to having off time. For example, I left work and went bowling with friends and left my phone alone. I walk into work the next day and my boss lectures me about making sure I have my phone with me at all times and being sure to answer it and immediately jump on whatever needed to be done.

As for school, that is something that needs to be dealt with. Districts keep adding math and science and cutting art which is a shame. I remember Art Lit in elementary school was one of my favourite classes. The again, I'm studying photography is college now, so I'm probably in the minority.

AM Townsend said...

You're dead on Kirk...I study the person/technology thing as an academic and it's frightening to see not only the obsessive connection, but the self-definition associated with the technology. We are lurching toward a cyborg form where the line between the individual and their technology blurs. It is a real contrast to the person/technology identification in the past; a Harley guy might live ON his Harley and it may have been a pretty important identity element. With technology though, people are beginning to live THROUGH the technology as well as with it. But then again, I've just got done reading your blog...guess I'm guilty too.


kirk tuck said...

I guess I should have entitled this: Is technology destroying your life?

Kurt Shoens said...

Or maybe title it, "Are we letting technology destroy our life?" I have had a hard time dealing with all the new connectivity. My optimistic hope is that we'll each come to grips with it and make it work for us instead of against us. I think that will take time.

I also don't think being 24x7 workers makes us any more productive. In much that we do, we're not lacking for wallclock time. What we lack is creativity, intuition, genius, and inspiration. Those things make us need less time rather than more.

Alex Solla said...

Okay, so who was this actor. I love the quote and he should get some semblance of credit. It isnt a unique idea, but I love the way he pulled it together succinctly.

kirk tuck said...

Alex, The actor was Martin Burke. The quote was from a professor of his. I don't know the professor's name but I believe the quote is largely Martin's.

Craig said...

Kirk, this is a great piece. A friend of mine described it as "A very accurate insight on a modern dilemma" and I completely agree. Thanks for posting it.

Michelle Jones said...

We need to stop choosing the easy way out. We need to tell our boss 'no' when s/he says we have to have the phone on all the time. Off time is off time, not standby time.
Stand up for yourself!

Kirk, I can completely see where you are coming from, I have noticed this phenomenon too. We are slaves to technology now, if the phone rings you answer it, if it beeps for a text message you stop to read it, no matter if you were in the middle of an amazing conversation. These interruptions stop the magical flow of connecting with other people, it's so sad.

Rob Dutcher said...

Kurt Shoens is right!
But more to the point, I don't think technology is destroying art. It is changing it drastically from what we think is art. We have moved on from painted figures on cave walls, but we humans still have the desire to create art. It is difficult for some of us to make the changes that technology forces on us. That is why I still try everything possible to make my digital pictures look like film.
Kirk, when I look at the picture above what I see is not unlike an intricately woven native American blanket. It is interesting in its form, composition and color. Is that not art?

kirk tuck said...

Rob, The broader the brush the thinner the paint. You summed it up exactly with your tacit surrender to "inevitable" progress when you wrote
"It is difficult for some of us to make the changes that technology forces on us." It should always be a choice and it should always be our choice. You can still shoot film.

We can all choose to enslave technology rather than let it be used the other way around. We can say "no" to being "on call" 24/7. We can opt out of things that we don't believe in. We can break the addictive part of the equation by making the new bits and pieces back into tools that work for us instead of just being another piece of mindless entertainment and another venue with which to receive thinly veiled advertising messages for stuff we don't need.

J. DeYoung said...

"We can all choose to enslave technology rather than let it be used the other way around. We can say "no" to being "on call" 24/7. We can opt out of things that we don't believe in."

- Imagine that, we actually have a choice! ;-)

I have a few friends that just don't get that. They answer their cell phones, e-mails and text messages 24/7 all the while complaining that they're too stressed out and wish they could spend more time with their families.

I've tried to help them out, but they're too busy answering another call to listen.

Sigh, what to do.

kirk tuck said...

One other thing that I find with my friends is that, unlike buying a camera or a painting or a musical instrument, all these new technologies have a recurring monthly cost in addition to their initial cost that makes them extremely expensive. My friends who have cable, iPhones, G3 enable iPads, Netflix, online gaming subscriptions invariably have a car payment and between all these toys they have a fixed entertainment cost of between $600 and $1000 a month!!!! That's money that could go for a vacation, an investment, romantic dinners, investment, a new lens, investment or investment. And yet these same friends decry the decay of the middle class. No. Their forefathers didn't surround themselves with useless crap that had recurring monthly costs. Think of the opportunity cost of throwing all that money away.

Stop texting, stop talking, stop surfing, stop spending. Start doing.

Daniel R Fealko said...

"... useless crap that had recurring monthly costs." True, and those recurring costs aren't limited to just dollars.

As others have already pointed out, you do have a choice. You don't have to answer the phone every time it rings; let voice mail handle that.

I have 30+ years and a Ph.D. in information systems, but I also don't have a cell phone. I prefer not handing my time, which is my most precious possession, over to someone else that easily. Life really will carry on, even if you're not available 24/7 to respond to someone else's whim.

Sometimes I wonder if people simply let technology encroach upon theirs lives because of boredom. If that's so, then it's truly a sad statement about their life.

James Frederick Bland photography said...

Have heard this type of thing over the last couple of years, but you put a nice personal touch to the situation.

You put it well in Stop..... Yes let's start making choices for ourselves.

I'm going on a small ship vacation soon. I'm not taking my phone, or may computer and I'm taking a FILM camera that needs to be manually focused. It does have Aperture priority if I choose to use it, but only needs a couple of hearing aid batteries to run.

Some people say the best way to improve your photography is to set the focus to manual and the exposure control to manual [m]. I like that.

Here's to thinking for yourself, learning from mistakes, and making your art [whatever that might be]

kirk tuck said...

James. So true.

My favorite line when people ask how to do this and be somewhat financially secure is:

Turn off cable and invest that $150 a month in your retirement account. If you are in a higher bracket it's really like +$200 a month. That's $2400 per year. Amazing what you could do with that. And with all the time you'll get back. And the eradication of visual pollution that, no doubt, effects people's ability to have original thoughts......

Silvertooth said...

Earlier this week I joined my wife and mother-in-law for lunch. As we sat there enjoying our SHiner Bock BBQ burgers, my mother-in-law, out of the blue, said, "people simply don't communicate anymore." I was confused since we were enjoying a nice conversation about an upcoming trip to the mountains.

She said, "Look at that couple over yonder [she is from East Texas]. They came in seperately, pecked on the cheek, and haven't said a word to each other. They're too busy texting!"

She hit the nail on the head!! We don't communicate anymore!!

I would ask a favor. May I have your permission to use this blog (excluding other's comments) in my Social Studies classes this Fall? I will gladly give you full credit, of course.


Rob Dutcher said...

Technology is awesome in so many ways. But it is a tool that works for me. I don't work for it.
One of the best things I ever did was kill the TV. WOW, I sure can get a lot more done and still have time with the family.

kirk tuck said...

silvertooth, of course.

Anonymous said...

As an art educator I am constantly fighting the narrow view of end product(result) and bean counting, or keeping score, as if the number of beans equals knowledge. Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge", you figure it out. . Our culture and education system has created students who have a delusional sense of entitlement. ,They do not know how to think or reason, they do not know how to 'imagine' or think creatively. They believe the myth of relativeness, They want the end product and the grade and to move on to the next thing on their way to fame and fortune.
This is no accident, read this book
Look at this web site
Decide for yourself.

Very young children have no problem being inventive and creative, it is only after an 'education' that they lose the ability to think freely, imagine,and create.
This doesn't apply to everyone, but the percentage I see is not promising.

Dave Elfering Photography said...

There was a movie Brazil had an accurate look at one side of technology.

I agree 100% that knowing HOW to think is more important that WHAT you think. My first college was a liberal arts based school and looking back I realize it was the most enjoyable time I spent in school. But it used to irritate a lot of people I knew who also went there "who gives a **** about art I want to be an accountant" was a typical, short sighted response. Yet in actuality everyone actually cares about art, just most do not develop an informed opinion nor good taste.

I work in technology and art is my hobby, and it helps me maintain both balance and perspective. With regard to technology and changes, it happens inevitably. I think you hit the nail on the head in your Commercial Photography Handbook, we always have to be reinventing ourselves. As more people think they are becoming "photographers" then the division between those with vision and skill will actually be more apparent. It will unfortunately also be harder to make your voice heard in the riptide of mediocrity.

steveH said...

The best (I'm only slightly joking) part of my cellphone is the off switch. Ditto for both computers. Knowing when to use it helps.

Being laid off early last year, after 30+ years working in the computer industry, isn't the worst thing that's ever happened to us, nor is it the end of the world.

Now, there's a batch of B&W film that just arrived, and a new rangefinder camera and lenses that need to calibrate me. And the weather's just about perfect.

The weeds will have to wait another day, I guess.