Art & Technology: Can They Coexist Happily Ever After? By Barbara Russek

Just about everybody thinks that art has power to nourish the soul. Add food for the body and you have a winning combo. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I decided to treat myself to some of each by first stopping to have lunch at a nearby grocery store, and then attending a lecture at the library located just a few minutes walk away.

I paid for my salad and took it to the café area. Seated about three feet from me at the small community table was a man who was cell phone surfing. He didn’t even look up when I sat down. In fact, during my entire lunch, there was no acknowledgment of my existence. This non-interaction and others like it have convinced me that no matter how much I may have to offer in a conversation, I’m left in the dust when it comes to a cell phone. Without email, apps and games to entertain others, I’m pretty small potatoes, way smaller than the device he held in one hand and clicked with the other.

I was going to open the conversation with a question like “Read any good emails lately?” but feared being ignored, since cell phone man was in the zone, the virtual cyberspace zone, oblivious of the world around him.
After lunch, I walked the three minutes to our local library. Satiated from food for the body, I was starving for nourishment for the soul. Docent Susan Hill from the Tucson Museum of Art was going to give a talk on the life and works of photographer Steve McCurry. Hill’s presentation, enhanced by power point images of the artist’s work, captivated me from the get-go.

McCurry’s photographs were riveting. This man with a camera risked his life, braving floods, fire, and temperature extremes to capture a moment in time somewhere on Planet Earth.

McCurry snapped folks participating in a variety of spirited games. The iconic picture of a man caught in a flood holding up a sewing machine, his only source of income, stood out in my mind. It made me think of every natural disaster, that not only turns trees and houses upside down, but the very lives of those lucky enough to survive. And I will always remember the images of children–resilient though maimed by war.

After the lecture, I asked Ms. Hill if she could understand McCurry’s desire to travel the world in search of a picture. “He wanted to capture, as one critic has indicated, our essential and universal humanity,” she replied.

I left the library with a jumble of emotions running through my mind. On one hand McCurry, and so many other artists– photographers, playwrights, musicians to name but a few– create work today that can help us all better understand the ties that bind. On the other hand, technology, though facilitating distant communication, is starting to turn person- to- person interactions with those around us into an anachronism.

Walking into the sunlight, I crossed paths with Mary, an acquaintance who had also been at the photography lecture and told her I was having trouble reconciling these two antithetical aspects of modern life.

“Just remember, “Mary reassured me, “each person still has the choice of how much to use technology as a replacement for looking into someone’s eyes and having a conversation.”

Her comments reminded me of Candide, Voltaire’s protagonist in his novel of the same name. After traveling around a world as fraught with problems as ours today, Candide’s conclusion is that “We must cultivate our garden,” metaphorically the garden of our own lives.

With a brand new year in front of me, I have decided to make my life more meaningful with a resolution to use electronic devices less for casual communication and through real-time connection with those around me cultivate more roses in the garden of my life.

Barbara Russek is a freelance writer living in Tucson. She welcomes comments at

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