Farewell to immersion

The young women in front of me was moving in sync with the rhythms from the stage, enjoying the live music and the uniqueness of sharing an experience with other people. Or so I thought. Suddenly her body froze, then she started fiddling in her pocket and found the smartphone, clearly oblivious now to the music and occupied for the rest of the band’s song with texting, e-mailing, updating her status — or something. I felt sorry for her: Shouldn’t experiencing a live concert be about forgetting everything else, immersing yourself in the sound here, now? Not anymore, 4 minutes is too long for that kind of deep concentration.

Robert Kaplan makes a related point about travelling:

I am not saying information is now harder to come by. I am saying the intensity of the experience of foreign places has been diluted. The real adventure of travel is mental. It is about total immersion in a place, because nobody from any other place can contact you. Thus your life is narrowed to what is immediately before your eyes, making the experience of it that much more vivid.

With regards to meeting sources as a journalist, Kaplan notes that “It was all so much more efficient then” — paradoxical, now that we have all kinds of tools to get information instantly. The intensity of conversations has also been diminished.

Kaplan is 60 and I am not exactly young anymore, either. The default reply to laments such as these are: Young people deal with the lack of immersion in a natural way and it’s no problem for them. I am not so sure. If you have experienced the world pre-www, you can make comparisons. If anything, I would expect young people to romanticize the past. A good example is journalism students who say their biggest ambition is to work in a printed newspaper.