The Acceleration of the Mind (Or: Get Off My Lawn) (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Justin Knabb, Dec 08, 2010 1 comment

Justin Knabb

Last week at a concert, I experienced former Joy Division bassist Peter Hook rock out his rendition of the band's first album, Unknown Pleasures. In the venue, I was engulfed by a wave of crowd-induced glowing light, but nary a raised lighter, swaying with the rhythm, was to be found. Instead, the artificial phosphorescence of cell phone light illuminated scores of busy fingers, filming, texting, tweeting away, while the band played on. And then a thought occurred to me: Is the unprecedented rate  of rapidly advancing technology and information actually hindering – not enhancing – our enjoyment of and appreciation for the arts?

A few days after the concert, I found my concerns were reflected by columnist Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star, who is writing a series of articles that examine this phenomenon. Pevere highlights work by Dr. Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA, who posits “the current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains. Many of us are developing neural circuitry that is customized for rapid and incisive spurts of directed concentration.”

There is little doubt that the progression of technology has vastly improved our listening and viewing experiences with the arts. From the construction of an elaborate museum which researches and displays world-class art and artifacts, to the increasing array of chemicals that compose the perfect brushstroke, to the bone-rattling sound system which allowed me to not only hear – but feel – Hook's performance. Not to mention the innumerable positive effects new technology and social media have had for the arts advocacy and marketing fields. But I’m talking about in-person, literal engagement with an art form.

The article also discusses how the over-saturated, seemingly steroid-infused dissemination of information into today's culture - powered by the 24-hour news cycle, the ubiquity of smart phones and social media networks, and other ever-increasing ways to stay constantly “connected”– could possibly alter the way our minds receive and analyze this information.

As we become more accustomed to absorbing increasingly astronomical amounts of varied information and sensory data in rapid succession, what room does that leave for the thoughtful, intrinsic appreciation of a painting or a musical score? Today, how likely are we to stroll down the halls of a museum without checking our phones a few times? Soon, will we even go to museums?

Pevere notes how rapidly changing technology is currently causing the pop culture genre of the creative industries to “redefine itself for a future where the only thing from the past that applies is our passion for pleasure.” And we want it immediately. Are the fine and performing arts next? Classical musicians in New York City are already falling by the wayside thanks to the increased digitization of music. What happens if our interactions with the arts become totally reduced to the transmission of pixels through small LED screens, for a few fleeting moments at a time?

The case is often made that those in the arts world must technologically evolve to stay successful, and perhaps even relevant. But the increased societal (or innate) desire to briefly process all information given to us, then hurriedly disregard it to move onto the next flashy thing, could potentially harm our ability to legitimately enjoy, experience, contemplate, and learn all that the arts and humanities have to offer.

Arts Watch is a weekly cultural policy publication of Americans for the Arts that covers news in a variety of categories related to cultural policy including Culture and Communities, Arts Education and the Creative Workforce, Public Investment in Culture and Creativity, and Philanthropy and the Private Sector. The newsletter also features an Arts Watch Spotlight item and Arts Canvas – News from the Field, a short piece written by a different Americans for the Arts staffer each week.

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1 responses for The Acceleration of the Mind (Or: Get Off My Lawn) (from Arts Watch)


December 09, 2010 at 12:50 am

Your insights are trenchant. This is where the arts connect to the humanities, and together to education. There are values embedded in our literature, and our arts, and even our science, and without training we can't maintain those values in our society if, as you note, we are being trained in another way. I wrote something about this a little while ago in regard to the NEA's online participation study: . As we work to uphold values (and arts education standards), it's critical we keep our eye on what we're actually fight for. Good post!

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