I’m back from a prolonged blog hiatus. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Haiti Club, of which I am a sponsor, was selling holiday ornaments to raise money to cover the tuition for students at our sister schools in Leogane. I was humbled by the unexpected success of the fundraiser: $36,000 or 360 full tuitions for the 2012-2013 school year.
The fundraiser, although a labor of love, occupied all of my free time in November and December. It wasn’t until after Christmas that I began to relax and breathe deeply again.
Those days between Christmas and the New Year seem the slowest in the calendar, as though the world slumbers in a brief but heavy hibernation. There are no parties on the agenda, no elaborate meals to plan, no outfits to ensemble. Time seems to stand still.
During that week, I read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Although his thesis about the negative cultural and intellectual consequences of technology primarily addresses the advent of the personal computer, the salient message I retained concerns our unwillingness to critique every so-called advancement in our lives: “Honest appraisal of any new technology, or of progress in general, requires a sensitivity to what’s lost as well as what’s gained.” Of course, the inventor, focused on his creation, fails to appreciate the potential societal implications of his work, but Carr also notes the user’s eager obliviousness to anything but the practical benefits the invention will have on his life.
Consider the clock, as I did recently in a brief essay for the edu180atl project.
Invented in the 14th century, the clock provided obvious advantages to society, but it also divorced mankind from the natural flow of time. Rather than man employing the clock to provide a sense of regularity and to measure the rhythms in his life, the clock morphed beyond a simple abstraction so that man ultimately is now manipulated and regulated by his own creation.
Like clocks ourselves, we operate with a repetitive regularity which has no resemblance to the rhythmic life of a natural being. We labor in factories, work in offices, and learn in schools all regimented by the clock. Seduced by the cliché “time is money,” we’ve imposed on ourselves our own servitude and refuse to consider the ill effects of our creation or any alternative way of being.
Certainly, I’m not advocating a return to the pre-chronological mindset. The clock is here to stay, and it’s valuable as a means of coordinating activities in a highly developed society. But we, unlike the inventions we create, are endowed with the ability to make choices. We have the capacity to recognize when the machine has become the master.
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
by James Wright
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.