Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 2)

Finally, the much awaited* follow-up to Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 1):

Customer: Lately, I’ve noticed that my laptop battery has been dying really quickly. I’m not sure what the problem is.

Tech Support: Well would you really consider that a problem, given the alternative?

C: Alternative?

TS: With the inevitability of death, the only alternative to dying quickly is dying slowly.

Which is better? It’s hard to say for sure.

Would you rather have a slow decline, with enough time to plan for the end–but also enough time to dwell upon every grain of vitality that slips away, until down to just a sliver? Or would you rather have that life yanked away with hardly any warning–but hardly any dreading anticipation either?

But perhaps the question comes down to not just how quickly it dies, but how quickly it lives.

Some seek to race through their existence, leading lives which end quickly, but not before getting their share of excitement and danger and joy and conflict and achievement and loss. Others are equally content to languor along the journey, leading lives which are longer, if less densely packed. Perhaps the only real tragedy is to die faster than one lives.

So you ought focus not so much on how much time passes before your battery trickles away to zero, but on what actions it produces in that fleeting window of power.

C: Uh yeah, I guess I was running a lot of apps at the same time, if that’s what you’re getting at.

C: I’m trying to update my software on my phone, but it says that I don’t have enough space. Do I have to delete a bunch stuff from memory before I can get the new version?

TS: Ah, the dilemma of progress. At times, it seems that we must choose between holding on to our memories of the past and moving onto to future. 

There are those who remain attached to their pasts and refuse to relinquish them in order to hop on the latest bandwagon of “progress.” They ignore the nagging messages to bring themselves up-to-date, unconvinced that the newest tools have as much worth as their stockpile of moments, conversations, and personal history, weighted with nostalgia and lessons learned.

Eventually, these people will get left behind, unable to function properly in the world we live in, unable to communicate with those who have moved on, unable to accept new developments.

But these people are not the only ones who are misguided.

You may be eager to wipe away your past for the promise of something newer and better. You don’t want that weight slowing down your forward progression.

But often, you’ll find that the moment of change is not the great leap forward that you imagined would render all your previous experiences irrelevant. And as you advance in shaky half-steps, you’ll still need those same old memories to make sense of the present. 

Because you know what they say about those who forget history . . . Though you are always looking forward, you find yourself in repeating cycle: making moments to delete as you jump into the next round, never holding on, never building up.

For genuine progress, we need to find a space for our past memories to be held and referenced, without allowing them to dominate the forefronts of our lives.

C: So you’re saying that I should make a backup before I erase stuff from the phone? Got it.


*By whom? Maybe just me.


Who and What Belongs In a Theater?

The other day I went to the ballet (it was NYCB’s New Combinations Evening, which, by the way, was pretty amazing, with Mauro Bigonzetti’s Vespro being by personal favorite). But the audience got me thinking just as much as the dancing did.

As the house lights went off and the performance began, there was one person in the front of the section still on his iPhone. Which is annoying. But the reaction was worse.

A few people started whisper-yelling (getting less whisper-y with each comment) “get off,” “turn it off,” “now” (prompting some other people to start chiming in with “just shut up!”) and then the real kicker: “Idiot! You don’t even belong in a theater!”

That one made me cringe a little. Because I don’t like to think that anyone doesn’t belong in a theater. Looking back how racial, class, and gender exclusion has been enforced upon theater audiences throughout history, the assumption that only certain people belong in a theater is a pretty loaded one. And given how difficult it is in current economic conditions to get enough butts in seats to financially sustain a performing arts organization, along with the public perception that classical art forms especially are elitist, no one who actually likes ballet should want it to become more exclusive. Plus, if we want to claim that concert dance is an important part of our shared culture and humanity, and something that enhances quality of life, then excluding people from that sounds pretty problematic.

That said, I don’t want to be blinded by your phone when I’m trying to watch Sara Mearns. We can say that certain behaviors don’t belong in a theater, right?

I’ll admit that have a little trouble putting my phone down. Sometimes it’s a crutch to keep me from the enlightening boredom of being alone with my own thoughts. And sometimes its a useful tool that keeps me connected with all the wonderful people I have met throughout my life, regardless of geography. And sometimes it’s just fun. I like getting little red, numbered notifications. They make me excited. It’s classical conditioning, okay?

But I can put it away for a few hours to watch an amazing performance that I paid to see.

This is the part where most nostalgic dance writers will lament that today’s instantaneous, remote communication technologies have left audiences unable to appreciate the more pure and nuanced communication of live, moving bodies. I’m not sure how true this is, at least for a company like NYCB. During the performance, I saw a fast-paced series of images, all fleeting before my eyes and leaving me only with an impression of the moment and my response to it. That’s basically what Snapchat is, right?

Now maybe I should give the phone-using audience member the benefit of the doubt and assume that his behavior was due to some emergency situation rather than a lack of respect (wouldn’t want to make the fundamental attribution error). And by that reasoning, the person who made the “idiot” comment was probably just really upset that his performance experience was being compromised and didn’t actually mean to make a statement about exclusivity in arts audiences.

But the relationship between live performance and high-tech communication truly is a tense one that deserves some discussion.

Maybe if we realized that these types of communication are not all that different–that there is at least some similarity in your emotional and visceral response to a breathtaking partnering section and a new text from a crush; that the essence of human communication spans across mediums–we could find a little more peace and respect. If the phone-hooked crowd knew that live performance is not such a foreign world, that they do belong in a theater, maybe they would be comfortable enough to put away their information security blankets (phones) and take in the performance.

What do you think? How should we respond to phones in theaters?