13 September 2007

Tunes On, Plugged In, Tuned Out

I was at the college bookstore the other day, indulging my fascination with textbooks and assigned readings, on the campus of the oddly named IUPUI (a mash up university acronym for the campus shared by Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis). A guy with headphones proudly told a clerk, "When the phone rings, the music stops so I can talk." The clerk was impressed. The voice in my head said, "And when do you ever get the silence that requires you to entertain yourself?"

My buddy David (who occasionally swings by R World to express his disgust with my expressing my disgust at Dubya and his plans), wrote me the other day about his work at RAND. Our founding fathers had days, weeks - even months - to reflect on important questions and issues. Today, policy makers at every level are continually flitting from conference to task to book to meeting to conference, and on it goes, never really getting time to merely reflect on all that steadily inundates their consciousness. Meditation and reflection was thought important in an earlier time when souls, too, were thought important. Such arcane practices are seemingly less valued in an information age, a time when the goal has seemed to become focused on increasing bandwidth rather than depth of character.

What does all this mean? Have we become all input and regurgitation, no longer inclined to mull things over? Are we gulping down even fine wine as if it were water from a hose, swallowing ideas without chewing?

Perhaps we've put too little value on doing too little - and hence our time and ability to reflect has gone the way of mindless manual labor that forced one to reflect, or at least daydream. (And we've even subcontracted daydreaming to Hollywood, able to watch videos on iPods while filling in even the most trivially small gaps in our schedule.)

I've got an opinion about the implications of living increasingly thoughtless lives, but I'm not going to share them. Instead, I'll merely suggest that you give this some thought - mull it over, if you will.


Anonymous said...

I started to immediately post a reply to this post- but then I realized that would just make you sad. ;o)

Ron Davison said...

Good point. It'll take weeks for anyone to comment on this. This is sort of like telling your girlfriend you'd prefer that she talk less and then asking her what she thinks about the suggestion.

ben said...

I'm going to ponder this for awhile and comment later.

cce said...

I recently received an ipod and diligently loaded it itunes and NPR podcasts and was thankful for the ever present entertainment offered up by the little thing when doing yard work, jogging or making dinner. But then I ran the damn thing through the wash and it has been silence ever since. Now I have plenty of time to ponder life while scraping and painting the side of my house and I'm a much more productive writer when forced to think about my novel on the morning jog rather than listening to Fergie sing some mindless ballad. But, I'm sorry to admit that I miss the damn device and the happiness it provided while completing tasks I would otherwise deem a waste of time.

Life Hiker said...

My fine old boss used to moan about staffers who spent all their time in endless meetings. He called them "professional meeting attenders". Seldom did any of them actually "do" anything - they were too busy blabbing away at meetings and preparing summaries of the crap that most of these meetings generated.

We avoided formal or regular meetings whenever possible. What did we do with the time that thus became available? Think, and do.
Most times, though, doing anything worthwhile requires a lot of quiet cogitation and a lot of throwing ideas against walls to see what sticks.

As you say, Ron, you've got to have the time and ability to reflect, and we need to put a higher value on this time.

lsd said...

Nobody Mulls anymore!

According to my dictionary it is an American activity, since this sense of the word is an American colloquialism.

Be proud, keep this rich tradition alive. In fact, it's Friday; mull something over this weekend.

Ron Davison said...

I eagerly await the product of your pondering.

but what if boredom is a predecessor to creativity? No one said that creating the great American novel was going to be easy.

I do think that we tend to underestimate the amount of waste required to create something new. To find an example in nature, there are about 30 million sperm in a single ejaculate - lots and lots of waste.

I nearly mulled off a cliff up in La Jolla today. The weather was perfect, the ocean looked amazing and I, caught up in mulling, nearly stepped off the edge of it all into the clear ocean breeze. Perhaps it is this kind of thing that has lessened the popularity of mulling. (And quite intriguing that this is an activity of American origin.)

LSD said...

Yes. Like wine, mulling is good, when enjoyed responsibly.