December 23, 2015 - 8:30 AM
Screen-fatigue. Technological torpor. Compukrankheit.
There’s a malignancy that’s unique to our present age; and even though you may be otherwise healthy, perhaps even superficially well turned out, chances are you are suffering the effects of the sinister canker that is techno-creep.
Call it what you will, it’s gonna get you too, sooner or later.
If you’re old enough to have lived in an era before the intrusion of globally-connected computers, you will remember the admonition of our elders who warned us against the dangers of too much time spent in front of a television. “Go on! Get outside! You’re gonna go soft in front of that boob-tube!” they screamed. “Sit too close to the TV and you’re gonna go blind!”
We all know how that battle turned out.
But it’s gotten worse, of course. Lately it seems that life doesn’t happen at all anymore unless it is mediated by any one of a variety of screens based on the old familiar model of the television.
Particularly since the mass adoption of social media websites and the now socially-accepted practice of willingly commodifying oneself as a particular brand to project into the Aether, one might argue that life as we once knew it is no more.
Life: Gone the way of the Dodo bird. We are the dead. What defines us now are self-crafted, or wildly abandoned simulacra of our preferred selves. And judging by our social media effusings, daily proffered as episodic proof that we actually still exist, we are remarkably dull and ill-informed.
It’s a shame to reflect, as I did earlier this week, that many of us are rarely more than a few moments away from a screen at any given time throughout the day. At work, we deal with screens to carry out our tasks. At lunch, it is not uncommon to see folks peering narrowly into tiny phones to entertain themselves for the precious few moments that separate them from another turn at their desks focussed upon what appears on screens. And after work, many will escape the tedium of the workday screen with a nosh in front of a much larger screen at home. And then a tumble into bed to return to the screen first thing upon waking…
I’m writing this screed in front of a screen, of course. I love the magical nature of pecking away at a keyboard and seeing the lineaments of a text come into being before my eyes, almost at the speed of thought.
But I come by this love of writing by way of a life-long and early-developed love of an historic technology that predates the computer or television screen by centuries.
I’m talking about the book, of course. And I am here to tell you that it is the greatest invention that we have come up with. Period.
A book is a chance to cozy up to the mind of another. It’s a chance to engage in a mode of thinking and being that begets engagement with the thought processes of another sentient being. And it is a way to slow down, against the heady and frantic pace of a time in which reading is uniquely shallow, harried, utilitarian, screen-illumined and easily forgotten.
Bibliophiles will know what I am talking about. The reading of one good book can change a life. And better still, reading one good book will lead to the reading of other good books. With time, with all those great books cluttering an otherwise empty mind, one will perceive connections between books, and with connections come conclusions and perspectives that wouldn’t exist without the enjoyable engagement with books.
What a dreary place the world has become in spite of the many shiny and seductive ways in which to be washed over by its myriad expressions.
No doubt many of us have run out of steam when it comes to desiring the latest screen-based toy. Many are likely choking with boredom as a result of the uncritical and eager adoption of all things digital.
So this year, I have resolved to eschew the digital when it comes to my Christmas gift-giving; and I hope many of you will follow suit.
The best antidote I know to screen-fatigue and techno-creep is to turn it off. To grab a book and a comforting libation, and to drift into the mind of another who had the patience and the artful resourcefulness to order words to wing their way into flights of personal fantasy. And to be changed as a result.
My wish for our readers at Christmas is yet another good book, and yet another chance to keep the practice of thoughtful reading alive. No doubt it is you who will be the most interesting interlocutors on social media in the months to come, and reminders that perspectives worth articulating do not arise from the Aether out of nothingness.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who plays music by day and politics by night
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