by Rob Hopkins
Imagine, if you will, Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France in August 1888. It is a late summer’s day with the mistral winds blowing through the street outside. He has just got back to his small studio in what he calls the Yellow House which he dreams will one day be home to a community of artists. He is carrying with him a bunch of sunflowers, a gift from his friend, the gardener Patience Escalier, whose portrait he completed a few days earlier. He arranges them loosely in a glazed earthenware pot on the plain wooden table.
And instead of what history tells us happens next, imagine he were to sit down, get out his smartphone and check his Instagram feed for updates. Soon he’s also checking his Facebook and Twitter accounts…his attention is taken firmly away from the possibility of really seeing the sunflowers…. And forever deprive future generations of a panting which have so moved, fascinated and entranced generations ever since.
Matthieu Ricard is a French Buddhist monk, and, according to neuroscientists who submitted him to a battery of tests, the ‘happiest man in the world’. About boredom, he told me, ‘ Boring is people who have not realized the incredible richness of just resting in the mind…My ideal situation is twenty-four hour boredom all year round. Sitting on the balcony of my hermitage, watching the Himalaya. If you call that boredom, it’s fine enough for me.’ At the end of our conversation, he paused, and then added: ‘I think the Buddha might have got rid of twitter with his Palace.’
Maybe the digital revolution, which we thought would liberate us and spark a huge expansion in imagination, is having the opposite effect. As told me, ‘we’ve ended up over the last twenty years disabling the cognitive and collaborative skills that we would have needed to address a collective problem like climate change’. Or in the words of Sherry Turkle: ‘We had a love affair with technology that seemed magical. But like great magic, it worked by commanding our attention and not letting us see anything but what the magician wanted us to see. Now we are ready to claim our attention – for solitude, for friendship, for society.’
Excerpt from the book From What is to What if: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want. Chapter 4, pp 67-82
by Rob Hopkins