There is an electric coffee grinder sitting on a shelf in my kitchen and it has never been used. I brush past it daily as I reach for a hand operated grinder sitting on the same shelf. Sometimes during the five minute task of grinding coffee by hand, I wonder why I’m such a stubborn person. I also wonder why each day I choose to prepare coffee “The Long, Hard, Stupid Way”, to borrow from the wonderfully spoken Frank Chimero. Grinding coffee beans by hand is tedious, tiring, and frustrating. I can promise five minutes rarely feels so long, and yet, perhaps that’s the whole point. Forcing myself to stick to the slow lane is one way I ensure a moment of calmness and presence in my day. Five minutes of grinding coffee beans can outlast hours during the normal ebb of life.
As a society, we too seldom skirt efficiency, in favor of presence? We yearn for the physical, the slow, the essential, while paradoxically, we grant ourselves such limited time to observe these rituals. In our enthusiasm for the future promise of technology and the immediacy and convenience it provides, we overlook the promise of the here and now.
A cultural backlash to the “Insta-era” is palpable, with millennials yearning for slow, authentic process. Kickstarter is rife with products like the light phone, and coloring books for adults have made a recent resurgence. Each product strives to remove the digital realm from our lives - in the case of the light phone, by leaving the smartphone behind, and the coloring books offering a zen-like return to the pre-smartphone era of 80’s and 90’s youth.
How do we slow down?
But, nostalgia for a bygone era is as much a solution to relentless notifications and exhaustive split-mindedness, as faster processors and higher resolution screens. Yes, there is promise in the advancement of technology, but it doesn’t lie in the internet of things, virtual reality, big data, or artificial intelligence alone. These technologies will continue to underwhelm, until we learn how to make them match the rhythm and richness of human life.
We need our best minds working on methods of humanizing our technology, slowing it down, and giving it presence.
February 14, 2017