Imagine life at high speed. Imagine the adrenaline on all the time.

The pleasure of shared relaxation.

Imagine that you are sitting on a train. You're sitting in the seat next to a window. The seat faces the back of the train and you are staring out the window. It's slightly warm in the train car and even though the compartment is full no one is talking. They are all staring at their phones and pecking at the tiny, virtual keyboards. You look at your fellow passengers and then you look down at the phone in your own hand. There is a text. The text reads: "When will you arrive?" You have no idea who it is from.

You turn and look out the window. The landscape flashes by. The train must be traveling at 70 or 80 mph. Unless you turn your head in time with the forward motion of the train, anchoring your vision on something outside the window and moving with it as you careen by you can only see the object as a transient blur of color and contrast. A shape without detail.

The train speeds up. The images outside the window close to the train become harder to resolve. Now only objects further and further from the window seem to be in sharp focus and only because the long distance makes them appear more persistent. You get another text and it reads: "When will you arrive?" You still have no idea who has sent you these texts. You look back into the compartment and you see that the people have changed. They seem like the same kind of people but their faces are subtly different. The jeans are worn out in different places. The dresses have changed colors and the lines on the faces run in different ways.  Everyone looks down at their hands to see what might be on the screen of their phones. Several people use the tiny, almost imaginary, keyboards to peck out responses to something they see on the screens.

You look back out the window and the train seems to have accelerated. Now even distant objects are starting to be framed in a hysteria of blur. Nothing outside the train is really completely recognizable and the speed of the train deprives you of anchor points that would help you resolve and understand what you are seeing flash past your window.  You are one of the last people in your cohort to wear a  watch. You look down and see that you've been on the trains for hours and hours. You look down again at the screen of your phone. You are almost certain that you felt a phantom vibration that signaled a call or a text had arrived. The screen lights up and you see the same text. It says: "When will you arrive?"

You look up as the train accelerates even quicker and the compartment and all the visual stimuli begins to fade and blend and get darker. In a few minutes everything goes black. Nothing else happens.

Have you been paying attention to the way people are engineering their lives in the past few years? They seem to move from experience to experience at the speed of light and sound. Like ripples in a puddle that's only a fraction of a centimeter deep. It's seems like they are looking for something but what they are finding is a series of endless shallow puddles that they splash through on the search for another shallow puddle.

Have we engineered a society in which an ever accelerating series of shallow puddles of experience is the nature of people's daily lives? Have we lost the ability to be alone with ourselves? Have we lost the ability to share face to face time with other humans or has the geometrically expanding availability of screen delivered content decimated our ability to be present and share?

I watched people interact at several events recently and the leitmotif that ran through every event was the boredom that set in so quickly when experiencing real moments. It was a boredom that seemed only to be relieved by the succor of a cool screen glow. People would be engaged in a conversation over drinks and then the conversation would pause as one or more people disengaged to compulsively check their screen. Was it a repudiation of the person or persons in front of them? Were they searching for more exciting fare? Or have people, through habituation, just become incapable of holding a thought or experience in their own minds longer than a few minutes? It's almost like smartphones have replaced cigarettes and the excitement of the screen has the same narcotic and addictive effects as nicotine.

Whether it was at a cocktail party a dinner or a mass event the pattern was the same: Engage till situated in the real event and then begin the rotation from virtual reality on the phone, back to our more solid but equally fictive reality and then back again to the phone to see if something "better" had arrived.

As I drove home one evening you could tell that it was about to rain. The clouds were swirling, the wind was brisk, the temperature was dropping and we had that unusual kind of light you get as two weather fronts collide and reduce the sunlight to a bizarre and kaleidoscopic melange of warm hues. I pulled off the main road and drove up to nearby parking lot. I got out of my car to watch nature put on a show. I stood there and felt the wind drive the temperature and down and down. I felt the first stinging pellets of rain splatter down and watched as two layers of clouds, one above the other, sped in different directions across the sky.

Then, when the rain came down with a show of force, I climbed back into my car and headed home, still fascinated by the power of the weather.

Sometimes experiencing something with undiluted intention is the only way to either enjoy it or even understand it. If the train is going by so fast that nothing makes sense to your senses it's probably a very good sign that it's time to get off the train for a while....

What does this have to do with photography? I don't know. What does anything have to do with photography? It's a process of sharing a visual contemplation, right? But if life is moving too fast to effectively capture what can you possibly end up sharing?  Just thinking out loud. Everyone's answer will be different.

We don't get extra life points for having a million different (faux) relationships lived remotely and virtually. A deeper experience has a value beyond its own measure.

When will you arrive? Are you here now?


Anonymous said...

Or have people, through habituation, just become incapable of holding a thought or experience in their own minds longer than a few minutes?

So it seems to me also . . . anyone might think that we are each starting out second half century. Or maybe we aren't completely wrong. Depressing isn't it? ;o)

Frank Grygier said...

Amen..Amen. The selfie may a natural reflex action to verify if we actually exist in the whirlwind.

Patrick Dodds said...

Thanks for that very interesting post Kirk - chilling in places.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, it's the modern form of slavery. This one's voluntary.

Regards, Jim R

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Reminds me a bit of (a more modern version of) D├╝rrenmatt's "The Tunnel"...

Tim Arruda said...

Thanks for this Kirk, nicely written. You're not the only one who feels that way. My iPhone is incredibly useful, but most of the time I don't want to even take it out of my pocket because it bothers me so much that out in public, there are so many of us in close physical proximity, yet miles and miles apart, separated by glowing screens as you say. Give me a good face to face conversation any day of the week.

John Krumm said...

We are very insulated now, not just with devices. I grew up hanging on to inner tubes in pickup beds, breathing second hand smoke, and later, taking way too many chances as I experienced the rest of my youth. My daughter texts on her phone while watching John Stewart, both more innocent and more aware than I was at her age.

Carlo Santin said...

I teach teenagers and have for a while, since before the cell phone became something that everyone had. In fact, when I started, not a single one of my students had a cell phone. Now there isn't one who doesn't, This is the new reality. It is totally natural and organic to those who don't know of a reality where the smartphone didn't exist, much like we cannot imagine a world that existed before electricity or indoor plumbing or television. We gain something, we lose something else. It's easy to be pessimistic about it all. I don't know that I am.

Richard Jones said...

I am so happy not to have a smartphone. Actually, my cellphone is smart: I press a button and it automatically dials the number programmed to it. I think that is pretty smart!

I can think of situations where people aren't using their smartphone. I have nice neighbors. When I work out in my yard, a neighbor may come over to chat, and vice-versa. Sometimes several of us will get together over gardening. I've never seen anyone interrupt our encounter with a smartphone.

I go four or five times a week to our local city park with a nice lake. I like to go early and catch the sunrise. I always see people fishing. I've never seen anyone pull out his/her smartphone. Like me, I think they value their time alone with nature, unencumbered by the hustle and bustle of city life. They have their fishing pole, I carry my tripod. Tools of the trade. Often, when I see a bird perched on one of the little islands in the middle of the lake, I'll go to the edge of the lake next to someone fishing and set up my tripod. We smile, but don't disturb each other. I love looking through my articulated screen -- it reminds me of my days with a view camera. It's wonderful not to be in a hurry.

The birds don't seem to be in a hurry in early morning. Often, one will pose nicely to be photographed, as with this beautiful egret:


You ask, "Have you been paying attention to the way people are engineering their lives in the past few years?" I don't pay much attention. It's not worth the bother. We all have our own lives to live, and I enjoy mine! Each to her/his own. Old saying: "Just because someone's shoes are too tight, why should my feet hurt?

- Richard

Old Gray Roy said...

How glad I am to be one of the fortunate folks who got off the train a little while back. The train can travel as fast as it damn well wants to and I can smile. Art and photography courses at the local community college take up some enjoyable time that keeps my brain moderately active. Strenuous walking in the country provides the physical. And I can watch those who are on the train as it whizzes by ... and smile.

Thanks for providing some interesting fodder for these thoughts. We each need to examine where we are once in a while.

ykarious said...

I'm in the middle of reading this book - http://www.amazon.com/The-Shallows-Internet-Doing-Brains/dp/0393339750

I find it interesting and it's pertinent to what you are talking about here.

A good read if you have the time.