A Digitally Impressive, Yet Rusting Civilization

We advanced digitally; intellectually and spiritually, however, we have done more than rusted...

"Bal du moulin de la Galette" painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1876)

I often daydream about the Victorian period of the 1800s to early 1900s not only because it is my favorite era, when it comes to literature, art, and music, but also because it is a time period that cultivated and fostered an invaluable intellectual curiosity as well as a social life experience of substance, with a brilliance and elegance which, in many ways, surpasses by far that of our modern age. Much of the world’s most elite literature, art, and music was born during this time period I cannot help myself but love. It is true, people back then had more time at their disposal to truly indulge in refinement of ideals and the search for excellence, time which is becoming a luxurious commodity harder to harness in our busy, modern lives. But why did they have more time? This is what concerns me. Is it because they weren’t working fifty to sixty hours a week, that they weren’t as distracted as we are, that life wasn’t vanishing before their eyes at the blistering speed it does before ours? All of these questions make me think about how much everything has changed, since that era, in terms of what we call “civilization.” When I look at the news and facts that revolve around our modern world, I cannot help but question the realities that stain and scar the very definition of the word. Yes, we have advanced digitally, but what does it all mean? How does this truly impact the quality of the lives we live? These are some of the questions which I have asked myself meanwhile beginning to write a new poem today about the rust of civilization, rust which rides on the back of technological advances eating away from life’s most precious and meaningful qualities.

I think a lot about books, for example. I, personally, could not ever replace the thrilling sensations that come from flipping through the pages of paper, the smell of the book itself, aged and full of glorious history if it’s an antique, fresh and refreshing with new life if it’s brand new, with any digital book whatsoever. To me, a digital book is nothing but a profusion of digital pages with no smell, no touch, nothing personal about them whatsoever. A book makes you feel one with the story and its characters, immediately. From the turn of the very first page, it provides that sense of personal journey with the writer, an adventure that means a lot more than just text readily available to rush through in order to occupy void spaces of time. I cannot help but imagine how my favorite American poetess, Emily Dickinson, for example, would feel if I bumped into her tomorrow at the corner café and told her that I am reading her poems on a digital screen – poems which she inked with so much love and passion on pieces of paper. To be candid, I don’t think she would be very impressed. And I, personally, cannot bear the thought that I would permute the reading experience of her extraordinary poems to such a desolate reading. For me, a book has a life and a soul. It doesn’t matter how “advanced” or “popular” digital books are, for no digital book could ever convince me that it can offer the same experience to me as the reader. What matters to me the most is what impact it has on my reading experience overall. The physical book makes me fall in love, over and over again, with the story telling, with the writer, with the message, with the words, with the art of print, etc. I can tuck it under my pillow, lay it on my coffee table, or wherever else my heart desires, and the simple knowledge that it’s there physically for me provides a very comforting and darling presence. A digital book will never make me fall in love with neither of those things, especially the art of print. And, believe me, there is art in print.

From my perspective, digital advances come at a great cost. We advanced digitally but when it comes to intellectually and spiritually we have done more than just rusted. Don’t get me wrong, there are many great things about technology which astound me. I admire with all of my heart the scientists who work hard in order to make life changing innovations and discoveries. Looking at the medical industry, alone, one can find various breakthroughs that are worthy of applause not to mention esteem. But I ask myself, how is it really going to matter having technologically advanced medical devices, for example, if more than half of the population will not be able to afford being treated by them? How is it going to matter that we have volumes of digital data crammed into stuffed-up files somewhere floating in the mass monster of data clouds, if we have a society that learns to be ignorant now that we’ve thrown our book shelves away and allowed hundreds of digital tools, like apps, to distract us, all at once, every single moment of every single day? Is it really going to make a great difference, is what I ask myself, having more technology but a rusted, worn out civilization instead? One could argue that a balance should answer all of these questions. That sounds reasonable.

I don’t pretend to know the answers to all of these questions. My answers may not be others’. I may be wrong. But at least I dare to question and find out, for my well-being and sanity, what is best for me and my life. After all, these are questions which, I think, are very much worth considering. Balancing it all, finding that happy and safe middle ground, will be a great challenge for the generations to come. The people in the picture resting above, painted by the extraordinary French artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were full of life. Look at the people’s facial expressions, their interactions, and overall the entire composition. You don’t see any of the people in the painting looking down at their iPhone. You see them interacting with one another, celebrating life, laughing, dancing, having conversations, all meaningful and actual experiences. I see about at least five scenes of embracement in the painting, hugs being warm symbols of friendship and love. A digital life experience is not ever going to be as meaningful and as soft to the heart as the actual life experiences we live in person. In a world, so fast and furious, a balance between a life stifled by technology and one blossoming with real and meaningful substance, I believe, is absolutely more than desirable.

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