20 thoughts on “Let’s Hear It For Downtime

  1. Joe Loveland says:

    I concur. “In the moment” is such an overused phrase, but it’s a place my college and high school aged kids rarely visit. It’s impossible to have meaningful face-to-face human interaction when you are continually traffic-copping hundreds of texts per day. I don’t spend any time worrying about the clothes, hair, music and body art favored by “kids these days,” but I do worry a bit about this.

  2. Ellen Mrja says:

    On campus I see all of these young men and women with their heads down, texting – and walking right past each other. I envision their texts are not to significant others but to friends, asking the question, “Where are all the good looking chicks and dudes on this campus?”

    But it’s not just young kids. Don’t you feel it yourself? Example (sort of): I love reading books – always been my favorite use of downtime. But now here’s the problem: I’d sort of like to get a Kindle. However I hesitate because I fear reading on a Kindle will screw with my already overly-digitized brain; Kindle-book reading will be perceived as unfamiliarly-familiar to my cerebral cortex and will mess it up somehow.

    I also worry the Kindle would cheapen a superb tradition, some 400 years old, one I’ve shared with William Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson and Newt Gingrich, i.e. holding a book. To mix sensory metaphors here for a moment, eating imitation crab is sort of familiar to eating Dungeness crab; but God knows what’s in the imitation product and it doesn’t feel special after you’ve eaten it, just convenient and cheap. You’re left feeling disappointed in yourself for not holding out for the real product.

    I can’t envision being awake at 3 a.m. with tears running down my cheeks as I finish the Kindlized version of “Wuthering Heights” – and I certainly wouldn’t hug a Kindle to my heaving chest and sob when I was done.

    1. Expatriate says:

      Beautiful, Ellen.

      Plus, Kindles break when as slip from one’s fingers to the floor as one falls asleep.

      Long live e-ness and i-ness and all, but 400 years indeed. Books. Ink. Air. A walk. Conversation. Silence. The dark. Things we used to get just by being alive now require effort, scheduling, even apologies.

      Once, the local TV stations (which was all you got) aired the National Anthem to a well-worn film of a flapping flag against a blue sky, then a few seconds of silence, then that abrupt switch to snow and static signaling that, well, TV was over. It was fine, it was freeing, and it would always be back tomorrow — even though the first hour or so would only be of interest to the farmers. Time never appointed anyone to keep it filled. Go to bed.

    2. Mike Kennedy says:

      Ellen, I bought a Kindle about two years ago when they were double the price. Mine fell on our wood floor and it broke the screen. I am not buying another one. I have no fear of digitized books but there are certain books I think you want to own in their true form.

      Then there are those that you would by and discard at a garage sale or just want to read for fun — candy for the brain. Those were and are the ones I would buy on digital. Besides, as Kindle book prices have gone up, hardcovers have gone down and I can buy great books for about the same price.

  3. Dennis Lang says:

    Fascinating. I wonder if the kid of today, bombarded with an endless blur of immediate stimulation will ultimately experience an atrophy of imagination, contemplation, conceptual problem solving, (“Is Google Making us Stupid?”) Now Austin, presumably having spent at least some formative time in an era of three TV channels, black rotary phones–and actual books, may be facile enough to have mastery over the emerging technolgies rather than vice-versa. He’s worth a case study I think.

  4. Dennis Lang says:

    Speaking of books. From yesterdays Star/Trib, editor Sean Manning quoted from the intro to his book, “Bound to Last: Thirty Writers on Their Most Cherished Books”. I thought this was good: “When I glance at my shelves I see not just multi-colored rows of spines but cities where I’ve traveled…classes that I took, jobs I worked, people I loved and who loved me.” An itinerary of place and time, of personal development.

  5. PM says:

    plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…..

    digitization doesn’t mean the end of down time. plenty of kids are able to drop the phone, turn it off, get away from it in some form or another, and appre.ciate silence.

    All of my kids, for example, love canoeing and camping. and gladly do it without any digital companions. And when they are done, they go back to their digital world.

    And there are periods of rest in there as well. they take breaks to contemplate and digest what they are learning/reading/receiving.

    So, no, once more, the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. Technology (at least in this instance) doesn’t mean the death of civilization ……

  6. Oh, please…

    When the written word started making inroads, the leading lights of the oral tradition predicted the demise of intellect and learning because students would no longer have to memorize the poems, stories and histories.

    The printing press meant the end of thought and reflection that could be acquired only by laboriously hand-copying the great works or by traveling across continents to gaze upon the only copy in the world of something.

    Moving pictures were decried as a tool of Satan, a gateway to debauchery and slothfulness.

    Talkies ruined the pure beauty of silent picture acting. The advent of color deprived directors of the ability to project mood and emotion.

    The radio, the TV, cable and finally the internet have all been heralded as the technological straw that finally will turn us into drooling imbeciles incapable of caring for ourselves. HG Well’s Eloi made real.

    (As an aside, one of the ironies of the Times article was the inclusion of the research that extolled the virtues of watching television versus on-line activities. From rotting my brain to saving it in my lifetime; remarkable.)

    In short, every technological advance scares the shit out of the older generations. Little advances – like cable versus broadcast – evoke little turds of fear; big advances cause…you get the idea.

    We’re in the midst of the greatest change in information processing since writing…and it’s happening not over thousands of years but over a single lifetime and effectively everywhere all at once. This is “big shit change” on a scale and speed our species has NEVER experienced before. No wonder we’re scared.

    And, as much as I like technology, I’m happy to admit that our fears are not without reason. Because this change is faster and more pervasive than anything that’s come before it, we don’t have the benefits that come from a slow rollout to work out the kinks and to figure out how to maximize the good effects and minimize the bad effects. We’ve made a mighty big leap over the last 20 years and now that the logic of 32 feet per second per second is kicking in, we’re a little late to wonder if jumping off the bridge without harness, parachute or a couple millennia of test dummies is a good idea.

    As a thought experiment, consider for a second what it would have been like 6,000 years ago if the first person to invent a written language anywhere had been able to teach it to everyone in the world in just a couple of decades. Odds are we would have seen some serious economic and social disruptions and been stuck with a pretty crappy writing system that made it really, really difficult to do some things (go ahead and try a little multiplication with Roman numerals if you want to see what I mean).

    Or, if you like your thought experiments a little more apocalyptic, how do you think the world would have fared in the mid-1940s if the technology for making atomic bombs had been available to every country – hell, to every individual – in the world more or less simultaneously? Think we (the planetary we, not the American we) could have stopped ourselves at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    Truthfully, we have no idea how this is going to turn out; maybe this IS the change that destroys our brains and craters our civilization. We are running a global experiment on ourselves and our kids; I hope we like the results.

    Because from where I sit there ain’t nothing we can do to stop it, short of pulling the plug on modern civilization. Not the wee media beasties of American journalism, not the Great Firewall of China can stop the march of digital connectivity into the lives of all of us. Move to a cabin in northern Idaho if you want, go off the grid in every way possible; I give you ten years before the most remote sections of the US are blanketed with high-speed connectivity and before somebody comes up with some gadget, a device, a service that even you can’t resist. I give you five years before your kids leave you alone in that cabin because they think you’re the crazy one.

    Maybe the North Koreans can hold out the longest, but I bet there’s broadband and wi-fi in Jong family villas in Pyongyang so the experiment (infection?) is already there as well.

    So…if resistance is futile, I’ve chosen to head for the front of the line and try to get to the future as fast as possible; if I can beat a couple of you rubes to the new lands, maybe I can stake me a claim and eke out a living selling you guide maps or souvenirs. I’ve taken my kids with me. God forgive me if it turns out I chose poorly for them.

    And, for what it’s worth, I’m an optimist. I believe that, over the long run, the technologies that are disrupting so many things in our world today will turn out to be net-net pluses for our species and our planet and the other creatures we cohabitate with. Over the long run. For the species. For the planet. Your mileage may vary. Mine too.

    And, despite the affection we all have for the skills we’ve worked so long and hard to acquire, there’s nothing particularly special about reading and writing. On an evolutionary scale, the advent of both skills is an eyeblink…”BLINK! Look, honey, the hairless apes on the third planet have started recording and consuming information stored in little symbols on two-dimensional formats.” “BLINK! Now the hairless apes have found something else that works better to augment their woefully substandard internal systems. I wish I’d took a picture.” Our evolutionary path has made us socializing, communicating, learning animals, not necessarily readers and writers.

    We developed writing and reading because it was the most efficient solution for keeping track of our complexifying world 6,000 years ago given the resources at hand. It’s still around because there’s a huge installed base (i.e. a lot of legacy materials and a lot of trained users) and because we’ve yet to come up with a better system. Not to say we aren’t making progress. Storing information on electronic media is now cheaper, more durable and more accessible than storing it on paper. It’s not yet as universally usable as printed materials. We’re still a long way from dislodging the written word as a primary (the primary?) way of transmitting information among humans (most information is actually sent from machine to machine these days) but futurists can see the day when other methods – augmented reality, direct neural interfaces – win out.

    I submit that what we readers love – and I count myself among them – is the story, the narrative, the logic, the argument, the imagery, the stimulation of imagination that comes from a single sentence that invites you to extrapolate an entire world from it. We associate those joys with the physical object and the symbols that convey them but that’s a habit that – once you break it – you see it for what it is, a side effect.

    – Austin

    1. PM says:

      Yeah, but…look at the effect all of this modern technology has had on you!!! After all, you wrote that at….gasp…2:14am!

      Boy, when you finally get some turkey in you, you will be asleep so fast….

      1. And did it while waiting – futilely – for my iPad’s operating system to restore. My love of technology will apparently require another trip to the Apple store today.

        I’ll probably buy something else, but I think I already own one of everything….

        – Austin

    2. Dennis Lang says:

      Professor, that’s exactly why you’re the professor. Nice work! But despite “Oh please…” where this tome began a subject worthy of conjecture for all the reasons you mention isn’t it?

    3. Dennis Lang says:

      Professor, that’s exactly why you’re the professor. Nice work! But despite “Oh, please…” where this tome began, a subject worthy of conjecture for all the reasons (although I’m not too certain all the analogies hold up) you mention, isn’t it? We are for sure being swept along as never before. No turning back.

      1. Absolutely. We have to learn to live with our tech, not hope that it can live with us. And, I’m all in favor of everyone setting their own boundaries about where and when to use it. I’d like to think that I’m the one in this relationship with the whip hand but my frequent frustrations (like the upcoming trip to the Apple store) tell me I may not be so firmly in control as I’d like to be.

        – Austin

  7. Expatriate says:

    Oh, dear. Benidt whispers “Quiet” in a crowded cyberhouse, and he’s at once equated with the doomsaying, charmingly backward members of history’s Anti-This-And-That Leagues. Sheesh.

    I hear him suggesting that quiet is beneficial. Or, at minimum, that it’s nice. A terribly controversial riff on what scores of writers, thinkers and mystics have also said as they’ve faced whatever passed for the distractions and mental clutter of their time.

    If this be treason, Brother Benidt, let’s make it a conversation topic over breakfast next time you’re in town.

  8. I love quiet. I love naps. I’m pretty sure the guy under the hat is an old picture of me “attending” my seven years of college. My tech has made it possible for me to do more napping, more reading, more lounging in comfortable elastic-waisted clothes in nicer locations that would have been possible for someone of my limited skill set a generation ago.

    And, it’s fun. I still get a stupid grin on my face thinking about the Internet and how lucky I was to be living in the AI – after Internet – era rather than the BI times of yore. As Ferris Beuller once said of the 1961 Ferrari 250GT California:

    “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

  9. Mike Kennedy says:

    I took some down time after work a few days ago to shut off the noise and watch the movies Airplane and Naked Gun with my 19 year old son in tribute to Leslie Nielsen.

    He was a class act and a classic. I’ve seen these scenes countless times and laugh just as hard every time. RIP, Mr. Nielsen.

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