Saturday, 26 September 2015

States of Mind

Historically, there's always been a necessary distance between events and one's apprehension of them. The inverse is true today, where instant access to events in other parts of the world presents these events as issues that seem to call for an immediate response, whether as a call-to-arms, money for disaster victims, or simply a 'like' on social media in response to a celebrity endorsement or the posting of birthday photos on the timeline of someone who is the friend of a friend of a friend.

Many years ago, I think in 1965, I visited a battlefield in Virginia, the scene a hundred years earlier of a fierce conflict in the closing months of the American Civil War. I was previously aware of the battle, and its strategic repercussions. Indeed, in the visitors' centre there was ample information about the event, even had I not been aware beforehand.

To walk out among the ramparts and trenches, to view the field across which Confederate cavalry charged en masse, was an objective experience. To imagine the violence and danger to one's self was easy in the circumstances. But perhaps the more immediate effect was seeing relics recovered from the engagement - parts of uniforms, a broken sword, a belt buckle stamped "U.S." - that created a tangible experience for the visitor; people lived and died on this field. We knew it was true because we'd seen the colours in the faded uniform, the rust on the metal buckle. The example holds true for any event outside cyberspace, where the proximity to physical experience supersedes the video stream of remote imagery.

Now, because events are effectively broadcast into one's room on the instant, they retain a remote quality in respect of physical locality, yet demand attention as would a mewling infant. It's as if one lived inside a camera, and was unable to recover a sense of respect or repose within this agitated version of reality.

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