For months, I planned to upgrade to a smart phone the minute my wireless phone company declared I would be eligible for the big discount. But as the date approached and then passed, I dragged my feet. I found excuses. I felt a sudden fondness for my not-smart phone, for its tiny slide-out keyboard and charming doorbell text-tone. Finally, I placed my order and the Fed-Ex man brought me my little device, the one that will make me a truly 21st century speed-person. By the time you read this, I will have activated it. I haven’t yet. Just give me a day or two.
Because I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to be like Mickey Mouse in that “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” scene in Fantasia, right? Moving faster and faster until I wake up sweating and gasping for air and longing to time-travel backwards to the moment before I turned loose this malevolent instrument, this miniature servant whom I now serve!
One of my more creative excuses for delaying the big smart-phone purchase was the Seattle International Film Festival. I did not go to an absurd number of films; just enough to make those three weeks extra speedy, what with balancing work and film-going. But what a food-for-thought feast some of these films have been. For example: the essay-like documentary Five Star Existence, in which Finnish filmmaker Sonja Lindén trains her creative eye and curious mind on how our lives have been transformed by technology. She goes far beyond the simple stuff like fear of smart-phones and really makes us think about how every aspect of our lives has been revolutionized. We see a dairy farmer at a desk managing robotic milking machines with his mouse. We see huge trees torn from the ground by robotic arms, as a forester casually says he doubts he could find men strong enough, in these soft sedentary times, to log the old-fashioned way. We see Korean children at a camp for computer addicts, smearing real leaves with real paint to make leaf-print T-shirts, their hands clumsy and unaccustomed to this sort of tangible craft.
Psychologists interviewed by Lindén use phrases like “cultural lag” – meaning the impossibility of ever staying on top of the latest innovations – and “pseudo-activity” – meaning that constant, frenetic relationship we have with our laptops and smartphones that makes us appear and often feel busy, when in fact we’re not really DOING anything. We’re scrolling, gaming, texting, surfing: and taking in more visual images in one waking hour than humans used to in a hundred hours.
But we’re doing this with brains and bodies that haven’t caught up to this new speed-life. We’re still more suited to milking cows by hand; taking out a fiddle or a book in the evening. And yet these same cave-person brains of ours created computers and all their many robotic offspring. It’s the great paradox of our age.
Technology has speed-changed all of our lives, but some more profoundly than others: like the paralyzed woman in the film who has a tiny chip of a mouse pasted to the middle of her forehead, enabling her to communicate via her computer with the entire world. Watching her type by moving her head was the slowest and most moving sequence in the film. Slow can be beautiful. We need to remember that, in this age of speed-everything.
News flash: My film, Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story, is now available on Amazon, Hulu and other digital download sites.
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.