Monday, March 14, 2011

On (Not) Being There

This past Saturday night, I attended a scintillating jazz concert featuring the music of two of the best jazz-rock bassists around: Victor Wooten and Stanley Clarke. Rather than reviewing the concert (but I will note that I like Stanley Clarke's playing and band much better, though--more finesse, less histrionics), consider something about the audience.

Several people were checking their hand held devices for long periods of time during the live concert. Apparently, they could not simply be there in Boulder Theater during a live performance without simultaneously being somewhere else through computer mediation.

This is no small problem, but a change in consciousness--and for the worse. It used to be "distraction,"now it is called "multi-tasking." When awareness is divided it is lessened, diminished, impoverished. Before one eyes and ears are several jazz-rock musicians playing fascinating and difficult music. Since it is jazz, it involves improvisation and lots of interaction with the audience (unlike Kenny G going into yet another ego trance in front of his back up band). Yet during this concert, some souls help but stare at their little screens and "check" things. What things need to be checked when a concert is going on, a concert that one probably paid good money to see?

Media change is ecological: that is, it is systemic and multidimensional. More importantly, it is usually unnoticed. Most people sleepwalk through technological change, not knowing what it is doing to their souls, to music, to conversation, to reading, to listening, as McLuhan sagaciously observed.

Perhaps there is a word we need to hear: Wake up--and listen to the music of life.


Tabitha said...

Your complaint of others that look at their cell phones and other devices during a jazz concert is understandable. However, there may be another side to the story that you aren’t considering. Some of the people may be parents. As the mother of 3 kids just coming to the age where they no longer need a babysitter and occasionally stay by themselves for a few hours I admit that I do look at my cell phone when I am out. I don’t check it very often but two or three times while I am away. I do this so that my phone can remain silent and not be a disturbance to others. I know that by doing this, I miss some of the “music of life” as you put it but for now I have to be satisfied with what I can hear with the responsibilities that God has given me and still be able to enjoy some time away.


Unknown said...

While the above poster may never read my follow-on comment, I believe this is, precisely, what Dr. Groothius was calling out - that we rationalize and explain away our "distractions" as multi-tasking or necessary when, in fact, they are quite the opposite. In an age before cell phones and instant connectivity parents worried about their children only to realize there wasn't much they could do to prevent mishaps or fix anything when not with them. Now, we can be in one place and connect somewhere else, convincing ourselves that we're actually adding something extra. Truthfully, though, we haven't comforted anyone (nobody was concerned about the time I was having at the concert) nor have we fully alleviated our own worries and fears - we've just missed what's happening in front of us. This isn't about a jazz concert or even cell phones. It's about the depth of human interaction and the exchange we've made for convenience or worse, yet - the indulgence in our own character defects.