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Coals and floating screens

Home used to be “where the hearth is.” In days gone by, people coming into a house or a pub or shop would gravitate to the hearth, find comfort there, and feel at home. A shift has taken place in the past few decades – one I confess to feeling no affinity for whatsoever. Home in now where the television screen is.

I went for dinner in the lounge of the Saskatchewan Hotel in Regina last night: comfy leather chairs, arranged informally around coffee tables, a laid-back, tasteful Edwardian décor, delicious food – and there, at the end of the lounge, where the traditional hearth would have been found, was a large screen TV. Fortunately the sound was turned off – but that made the spectacle all the more absurd, because the show being aired was stand-up comedy. And stand-up comedy with the sound turned off could not be more pointless.

I tend to see the whole thing metaphorically, because we tend to recreate our environments to mirror the experience of the self. In this case, it’s almost as though our ‘fire in the belly’ has faded – and with it, that embodied experience of the present that allows us to rest there. In its place we have increasingly devoted our attention to the head’s obsession for ideas. Absenting ourselves from the present, we retreat to this realm of abstraction – shuffling our ideas on the screen of the mind, editing them, rearranging, rewriting. We divorce ourselves from the present so we can revise our ideas of it.

This is the realm we have made our home, and so we feel reassured when we encounter its likeness in the form of a TV screen – an endless streaming of images and ideas as unaffected by what is happening in the room as is the screen of the mind. Like a moth to the flame, our attention is pulled into its non-stop succession of images – the main purpose of which seems to be to act as a kind of prosthetic for our thinking, so that we are saved from finding ourselves reduced to sitting within the sensitivity of the body, stranded within the shining experience of the present.

And just as our attention has shifted from the grounded embodiment that joins us to the world, and has moved up to the rarified heights of the head, our culture has shifted our gaze from the grounded stone hearth and focused it onto a screen floating somewhere around head level.

As I write this, I am sitting in the departure lounge of the Regina airport. I cannot find a chair in which I can escape the baleful, alluring eye of at least one screen. I squirm as the screen nearest me nags at my attention, seeking to usurp it. I return to my breath, and the present.

Ironically, I’m sure the heads of the airport consider this mild form of assault a necessity on behalf of the awaiting passengers. And I’m equally sure almost all of the passengers would agree.

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