On a recent trip to New York City I visited the MoMA and the Guggenheim. Both museums had world class shows that I loved. But I had two very different experiences.

The MoMA was absolutely crowded. I’m not sure if the fact that it was St. Patrick’s Day and the MoMA is far too close to the city’s St. Patty’s parade for comfort helped or hindered the museum’s attendance that day. But it wasn’t the crowds that bothered me. It was the crowd’s phones. In each gallery I saw the same phenomenon: people would stream in, phones in hand, and walk up to a painting. They held their phones in front of their face, clicked, and moved on. Click.

Countless people experienced each work of art through the screen of their tiny little hand held devise. There, in front of them, were the images from my art history books, one after another after another, in real life. There were the textures and colors that were lost in print. And there they were in relation to my own body, an entirely satisfying experience compared to the ambiguous scale of a tiny image presented on a page or screen. But these people lost all of this when in was right in front of them, sometimes literally inches away as soon as they lifted their little electronic devise. Why did they even come?

The Guggenheim banned the use of phones and cameras in the galleries. I realized after leaving that I had felt much more relaxed  standing next to people who were experiencing the art directly without any screen mediation. It had actually stressed me out to be around all of those phones in the MoMA. And I’m not even a luddite.

Sherry Turkle was a guest on the radio show On Being last week. She was talking to Krista Tippet about her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.

Listen to Sherry Turkle on Being

A few interesting questions were posited.

How does technology affect your direct experience of the world around you?

For the MoMA experience, I would say that it was a negative affect. Is there even a direct experience occurring if it is mediated through technology? However, technology enhances my understanding of the world around me as I work through my current project, the Fern Ridge Project. By processing my experiences through technology I am able to return to the sites with a heightened awareness of the patterns of the environment of Fern Ridge.

How does technology change your experience?

As an artist, it has changed my experience dramatically. I would not be able to create the Fern Ridge Project if it were not for the amazing capabilities of technology. Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator programs are integral to my process. My eyes are not capable of separating and sorting colors from, the landscape in the way that I require. Technology frees my time at the sites so I can be fully present with Sarah as I help her gather her data for her research project.

I believe that these are increasingly important questions to visit and revisit as we learn to live with increasing amounts of technology in our lives.
Any thought? Please leave a comment to let me know!

 

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