One of the sobering consequences of the revolution that has placed electronic toys in the hands of everyone who can hold one is what I would call “D.I.C.” — diminished imaginative capacity. By coining this term I join with others who seem to love to make up names, and especially acronyms, for common events and phenomena in order to seem more learned. (We need not dwell on the acronym in this case!) The electronic toys the kids play with today and the movies they see do not require that they use their imaginations at all: they are loud, graphic, vivid, and present themselves to a largely passive audience. All the person has to do is sit and watch, or play with a joy stick, and their world is at their finger-tips with all its violence and noise. And because they read far less than their parents and grandparents and visit fewer art galleries, dance recitals, or symphony performances, this is of considerable concern: it is symptomatic.
To begin with, the appreciation of all great art and literature requires an effort of imagination. Take Joseph Conrad, for example. Despite working in a second language, his vocabulary is very rich. Further, He is what many have called an “impressionistic” writer and this causes problems for many readers for two reasons. Thus, Conrad’s rich vocabulary requires an extensive knowledge of words on the part of a reader. But more to the point, Conrad leaves gaps and spaces in his writing that require an imaginative effort on the part of the reader in order to engage his writing fully. And the effort is one that a great many people are unwilling or unable to make, especially given their shrunken vocabularies of late. The same might be said of the highly imaginative Shakespeare whose language is rapidly becoming foreign to growing numbers of young people. But the list of writers who demand an effort on the part of their readers could be added to endlessly. And the same could be said for art and music: they require an effort of imagination to engage the works fully. So, the question before us is: Why should anyone make the effort when they can pick up an electronic device, push buttons, sit back, and let the thrills begin? The answer is that very few are, in fact, willing to make the effort.
The results of all this have been analyzed and cataloged by a number of psychologists who have shown that the young, especially, are going forth into a complicated world with short attention spans and what amounts to a form of brain damage. They cannot attend to any subject, especially one that doesn’t interest them, for any significant length of time; further, portions of their brains are simply not developed. There is, indeed, quite a controversy among so-called experts about whether these people will or will not be able to cope in the future. I have written about it in previous blogs and choose not to repeat myself here. But the evidence suggests that it will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for these people to think their way through complex issues or use their imaginations to consider alternative consequences of future actions. And this is serious, indeed.
Moreover, I worry about the loss of capacity to imagine when it comes to great literature and great art because it means that these things will simply slide into oblivion, pushed aside by a growing number of people whose interest is focused on the immediate present and the graphic nature of the images and sounds that issue forth from their electronic toys that require no effort whatever. It may not be a problem on the scale of global warming, but coupled with that problem — and others of major proportions — it does not bode well for the future. Those who solve the problems we face now and in the future will have to use their analytic powers and, above all else, their imaginations. So, on the growing list of things that ought to have our undivided attention, we most assuredly should add D.I.C. and insist that the schools continue to require literature and art and that teachers discourage the use of toys as a substitute for those activities that will fully engage their minds and hearts. If only the teachers would….
Artistic images and artifacts that have been preserved as evidence of man’s creativity whether functional and decorative or both, leads me to believe there will always be a “creative” spirit borne out of whatever environment/society is in existence. I too fear the rawness of human emotion oft captured by the human [innate] creative process…may be replaced by a DIC society. There will always be ART, although by historical standards it may be sterile in content and construct.
Well said, Jots. But I shudder to think of the sterility (to use your excellent word) of what will be called “literature.”
Among all types of personality, the Artist maybe best exemplifies the achievement of that exhortation: “Come out from among them and be ye separate,” to embody and realize achievement through discipline of an aesthetic scope NOT within reach of the normal range of Perception and Sensibility among the herd. Given the rage for the democratization of Intellect in modern times and the leveling of the same wrought by public education, its a mere consequence that Art should most suffer to wallow in the dregs of Intellect leftover by this DIC one can so sentimentally deplore. The consequence to Society and to the vitality of the human spirit is probably much more devastating than here let on. When the Comedy and Tragedy of existence has been driven from the Stage for want of actors (artists) capable of lending light to the shadowy existence of human normalcy, what remains will be but the persistent monopoly of Farce in every corner of Society. Sound familiar?
after clearing airport screenings and noting that few people were smiling, i am touched by your comment… sigh.. if only the masses took artists more seriously and follow their example. it’s really easy, but one must put down those gadgets and keep both hemispheres of the brain (and spirit) alive and well!
when the ole miss rebel fans stormed the ball field last week, i commented to a friend that it was a shame that the attention goes to the sports, always the sports. we’ve created a monster, and now we have to play david and put goliath back in his rightful place.
may the youngest generation will find a way back to books and music and art and rejoice in those tonics for the soul.
from the gate,
It must strike the Observer of most prominent Culture today how the notion of the once admirable Hero has been dragged-down to the almost the lowest common denominator these days: Celebrity, Self-made man (riches), Warrior/Sportsman, and the unvenerable, political ideologue-leader (all of whom have easy access (cheap grace) to Forgiveness with the proper confession of repentance to the local Sacred Cow.
This must be part-and-parcel to the condition Professor Curtler here designates, which of all characteristics holds the attribute of a very, very short span of both Attention and Historical Consciousness. We have become men confined to the cultural equivalent to a “free speech zone” of popular imagination as a consequence/result of the kind of Education that Consumerism demands. Think: Planned Obsolescence. Should we be reminded that this kind of Culture is a planned Event and NOT the accident of unswayed or irrational forces?
As to the true Hero…one who stands outside of the even capable bounds of average, normal humanity; quite outside the reach or scope of historical or psychological virtues otherwise under the aegis of common ancestors; aberrant, extreme, ab-normal, divergent…and by common vernacular ‘insane’. All of this characterization fits the Artist, while all of this characterization also fits the Dangerous. The two, must necessarily go together, even as Genius and Madness, or God and Satan.
Democracy would have neither, but the shallow backwaters of a warm and comforting semi-somnolescence, or kind of sleep-walking, half-awake attention span, ever ready for the next shift in attention that wholly forgets that preceding. A dream like existence: today’s Political Memory in America, or the shape-shifting consumer ethos of a soul captured by the allure of the next-best-thing.
Great post, Hugh. I am reminded of what our children did when they were young. They would end up playing in the boxes the toys came in. It let them use their imagination. As they aged, my oldest son was in the last 5th grade band class at school, which were cut due to budgets. What a tragedy as music is a path into creativity, as well as mathematics and teamwork. Same goes for art, where the art teacher usually rotates between three to five schools in elementary school. There is so much lost without avenues to explore creativity. BTG
My own Great Grandfather, from his days of yore raised as a Junker among Prussian well-to-do, told me once of the desperate Isolation among his kind, in his few words still holding to my own Memory relating some secret grief. Having fought in the First World War and marrying a French woman (DuPont) only newly arrived in America as some kind of Promised Land, I found him half blind and a tender of gardens and evacuation specialists of the Dandy Lion.
But of this Isolation he DID relate the utter obnoxious presumption of aloofness among Blue Bloods and the Educated. It is something I will NEVER forget, nor dismiss as the disgruntled railings of a distant Memory. I see it, yet, every day, and men full of vapor in their hands whistling against the Wind.
Another worthy recollection on a popular theme, alike another distinction too often drawn between one generation and another, however among a thousand granted boons or baneful temptations, distractions, evaluations, propositions, disappointments and the many trials of faith made endearing by every tear. So little actually separates us but the imaginations of ourselves in motion with others of like kind (preferably), or those whose Dreams we cannot fathom or correct/contribute upon.
Perhaps it’s a distinction without a difference to observe that we All must be shook from the Distraction of our minion or juvenile interests to accompany our History and transcend together our shared experience?
Many who grow old have not accomplished as much, or worse, made themselves into monsters the world must well do without, ever. Yet there they were, in History, and promise to be again tomorrow. So it IS, and so IT goes.