My husband and I live in New England, and we took a walk the other day in Kent Falls State Park, enjoying the fall foliage. After our customary walk up the right side of the falls we followed the road less traveled and our dog, crossed the river and headed back down the opposite side. We came upon a sculpture garden of inukshuks and cairns, and once we really looked we could see that they were beautifully engineered and crafted to balance perfectly.
Enchanted, we began to snap pictures. As I did, I realized that the act of taking the photos was interfering with my encounter with these works of art, and I told him I was going to stop. He was feeling the same, so instead we simply let ourselves look, notice, pointed things out to each other each structure and swapped impressions. The experience became much deeper, richer, and more satisfying all at once.
I’m not putting down photography. A true photographer is creating a work of art. But I hadn’t even allowed myself to feel what I was looking at fully before trying to “capture” the image of it, and it became part of what I have been thinking about recently in terms of the media.
Media has the same word root as mediate–medi: “in the middle,” or, if you like, in between. It’s often a good thing. The original and biggest plus of media such as radio, television and the internet is that media helps us to communicate something across distances, and fast. I appreciate this tremendously as an educator and researcher. I can research a topic in a few afternoons when it would have taken weeks 20 years ago.
A negative, though, is that we forget that the machine is in between. We forget that talking on the phone is not the same as having an embodied experience with someone, we forget that a text cannot emit the scent of a lover, or that an adult sex video is not the same thing as a live sexual encounter. The more that our experience is mediated, the more isolated and depressed we can feel without understanding why. If we have fewer and fewer immediate (im=not, so immediate=not mediated) experiences, we’re in danger of forgetting that our minds have bodies attached to them.
And maybe we’re forgetting, too, in this age of “no pain: no gain,” that our bodies can feel GOOD, and that pleasure is not the same thing as comfort. Comfort is a ceasing of pain. Pleasure is more than that. It is active reception. It is flow. It is joy, it is ecstasy, and it has healing properties that comfort cannot provide.
I’m not going to stop taking pictures. I’m not giving up my laptop. But I am consciously more mindful of my husband, of the New England leaves and of my hound dog sniffing the autumn air.