Walking about with skill

Once upon a time, schools of thinkers were named after how their members moved. The Peripatetics were ‘those who walked’ – students who paced around a garden with their teacher. Some didn’t move much. The Stoics were named after a porch – the ‘stoa’, because the founder of their school taught the public while seated at his doorstep.

I think that walking and sitting are both good ways of getting around an idea. Here’s one idea: what exactly is a skill?. If we are going to share skills, we had better know what they are!

If, like the Peripatetics, you walk around a subject, picking up twigs and tossing pebbles around, you end up finding very useful material out of what seems irrelevant.

Similarly, like the Stoics, if you pick a good, sunny spot and stop to think about what’s on your mind, you can get some interesting insights.

I’d like to share my insight on something I found while on a long walk through the web. (or surf through the web? Whoops – I just broke my metaphor).

An article called How to Live Without Irony probably at first glance wouldn’t seem to offer anything relevant to our subject. But I want to point out two paragraphs:

Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.

While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.

The first paragraph might be a little harsh to digital technology. sure, it “takes us elsewhere”, but isn’t this useful? Don’t we sometimes have to escape our situation and take a walk to clear our heads?

But the choice of words is still pertinent: we don’t just make “use of” gadgets, we have a “reliance” on them. Maybe by never being lost, never being without a smartphone on hand, we never develop the mental map of the neighbourhood that the neighbour developed? We are absorbed in the “public and private” spheres. Maybe escaping boredom with a few texts is healthy in public (if you ever ride the 94, 95, 96, or 97, you know how dull the public sphere is). But in private?

We walk homeward with the second paragraph. With new technology, the article states, we win some and lose some. Joseph Schumpeter invented the term ‘creative destruction’ to describe how the new replaces the old, and makes the old forgotten. What have we lost? “Conversation”, “looking at people”, “the art of being seen” and “being present”.

Somewhere, I heard of a middle-aged manager in an office who became lonely in the last few years. He found that he couldn’t converse with the younger staff any more. They were all of the current generation: wearing headphones in the office, walking around with eyes downcast, never stopping at the water cooler.

What do we do if we, the young, have lost these vital ‘soft skills?’ Do we share ourselves while we share our ‘hard’ skills? Do we learn presence while we teaching woodworking?

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2 Responses to Walking about with skill

  1. Adam says:

    I was in a restaurant the other day, and, because I don’t have a cellphone, I was looking around, seeing who else was on the level. Most people were staring into their laps – their faces illuminated with the soft blue glow…

    It’s amazing to watch, as the tidal wave of subliminal movements is recognized in the subconscious. The little movement down to the pocket and the head tilt are enough to spread the idea to all those in your group, and then in the next group who may notice, and until the bar is full of people looking down.
    We all now crave that feeling of popularity, of being wanted or important, as we get our iPhones in a pathetic irony to be an individual.
    We cannot escape the facebox, nor the smartphone.
    Not until the devil’s subtlety is shown at it’s true ugliness.

    I now have to tell my mom to stop texting while we’re talking.

    I’ve been saying it for years, and I know that no-one cares or wants to hear it, but I’m going to keep saying it: modern technological conveniences are ironically driving us all further apart. Although we feel “connected” through the facebox and our dumbphones, this connectivity makes us feel as though we don’t have to focus on the present, and can always connect with others at the push of a button. Instead, I believe humanity should put effort into communicating and caring. This is especially relevant for this group, if we’re going to be a real group of sharing and humanity. I have a feeling that you guys get it, though.

    You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen it all before. Soon, though, perhaps the novelty of the mod-con will wear off, and we will start to grow bored, and then frustrated, with having a cell phone and looking down into our laps all the time, at the blue and white web pages.

    If the world ends soon, I hope we’re not all cruising facebox when it happens….

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