As I was walking across 33rd Street the other evening, I was struck once again by the number of people texting while walking. The sidewalks of Manhattan are crowded enough with tourists, window shoppers, marathon walkers, moving business meetings, late commuters, and the like; we certainly do not need to add in the oblivious.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of technology. There are devices and apps to make our lives easier, and usually, they do. My students submit their papers via email, and I grade them online. I can search for new crochet patterns online and order my yarn without leaving the house. I certainly “type” my stories and poems, and most are submitted via submittable these days. Even my oil painting is affected. The last few works have been based on photos that I viewed on my Kindle as I worked in the studio. And of course, there’s this blog. But there comes a point when we need to put the devices away and be present. Artists of all media have long been the conscience of society. They see world either more clearly or from a different perspective than those around them. They have a reputation for pointing out the ills of society or for imagining a new society free from those ills. We cannot continue that tradition if our eyes are forever cast downward towards our phones and tablets. Yes, we can read the news on our devices and stay informed, but sometimes we need to lift our eyes and see the world without the intervention of a screen.
We need to be present in our own lives. This is not a new call either. There are columns and posts galore about putting down the phone and being attentive to the people around us, about banning the phone from the dinner table. We’ve all heard stories of seeing people out on dates or in group activities who interact with their devices rather than with each other. But I challenge you to go one step further. Put the phone away when you are by yourself too. Be present for yourself. I rarely look at my phone while walking (I’m just not that coordinated–in fact, no one really is), but that day on 33rd Street, I made it a point to really look and notice the world around me. Now, 33rd Street is by no means the most gorgeous street or the most interesting. It is a city street very busy with much construction and many people; the many bars along the street spill smokers into the flow of traffic trying to get to the train; one store regularly has promotions which leads to people camping out on the sidewalk outside; there is a food cart on the sidewalk too and sign holders hawking a local eatery, and of course, there’s the Empire State Building; yet, taking the time to just be present to my own surroundings centered me. After a full day of work and a rush for the train to head home, I still felt calm as I sat on the train and began the work on this blog.
Be present to yourself in 2016; feed your soul and your creativity. Then share it with the rest of us. Happy New Year!