iPods guilty of visual deadening?

Seventy year old British-born painter David Hockney blames the iPod for creating a less visually inclined society. In this Age article, he suggests people insert their earbuds and thereafter ignore the information collected by their eyeballs.

hockney_a_bigger_grand_canyon.jpg
David Hockney’s A Bigger Grand Canyon, 1998.

I’ve posited in past posts how the adoption of digital technology in a culture may lead to a deadening of the sense of touch — where people don’t remember how it feels to run their fingers over anything other than a keyboard, clickwheel or steering wheel. However, I had not considered the visual ramifications of a digital society on the tactile arts (that is, non-digital art).

Hockney’s accusation seems misplaced. Did he think the same thing when other significant electronic devices were introduced to the general public? The television, the home stereo, the VCR? “We are not in a very visual age,” Hockney said in the article. “I think it’s all about sound. People plug in their ears and don’t look much, whereas for me my eyes are the biggest pleasure. You notice that on buses. People don’t look out of the window; they are plugged in and listening to something. I think we are not in a very visual age and it’s producing badly dressed people. They have no interest in mass or line or things like that.” Granted, the somewhat ubiquitous use of headphones only began with the Walkman, almost thirty years ago.

I agree that people don’t seem as interested in painting — or the other fine arts — as much as in past decades. Part of the blame for this might lay with the advent of our present digital age. It’s much too easy, for me and my wife at least, to sit in front of our laptops or the television for untold hours. “Time-suckers,” she called them last week. And it’s true, but at the same time the internet has allowed me to discover all kinds of artistic alcoves that I probably would never discovered twenty years ago. This is particularly when it comes to faith and the arts.

All of this to say it seems Hockney observed the symptoms correctly while incorrectly laying a blanket of blame on one specific piece of technology. As a spokeswoman for Apple of Australia told The Age, “Look at what people are doing visually with the iPod: They’re creating short films and sharing a lot of visual information.”

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

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