Most people in the publishing industry spent yesterday reading, discussing, and responding to Jonathan Franzen’s Guardian essay What’s wrong with the modern world. Franzen acknowledges being called a Luddite, but insists that he isn’t. Rather, he pushes back against technology that seems smug. As a result, he’s a PC user who prefers the Nook over the Kindle. While I see Franzen’s point, and find it amusing that we have something in common (I also prefer the PC and Nook) it’s also annoyingly clear that this is the essay of a privileged person. Do you think the people in Syria are concerned with whether using a smartphone at dinner is ruining their culture? There are so many other things to be concerned about, like the shooting at the Navy Yard and the impotence of this country’s leaders to reduce gun violence. And then there are all the things that technology is so good for, like saving low-lying areas from the inevitable devastation of global warming.
Technology feels like it’s dehumanizing us sometimes, but it also gives us access to human things we would not otherwise be a part of. Remember when profiles turned green on Twitter to support the Iran election in ’09? Or how you can talk to your grandma over Skype even though she lives thousands of miles away? And how old school chums are finding each other on Facebook and getting together to laugh about old times?
But like Franzen, technology does not feel like natural integration. It’s like that thing over Seven of Nine’s eyebrow. It’s handy, but distracting. Enter: mindfulness, the total opposite of technology. And the thing that so many of the famously successful have turned to, like Oprah, and inexplicably, Rupert Murdoch. I’m not much for meditation, but I see the value in being still for 20 minutes, without the phone or my shiny new Surface machine. My own version of mindfulness has been found in a familiar place. Ballet class. There’s peacefulness for me in the plié, and in finding the steps in the music.
The place between technology and mindfulness happens when I warm up with my earbuds in, and my smartphone tucked into the top of my tights, listening to old recordings of Sting.
Yeah. That’s the stuff.