Kings of convenience

‘Modern’ art

Old met new at the Tate Modern this week, as a 42-foot high silent film became the latest exhibit to transform the famous Turbine Hall. Artist Tacita Dean created the work as a “visual poem” to celebrate the dying art of analogue filmmaking.

No doubt the grainy memorial will prove a popular exhibit, as it touches the nation’s yearning for a simpler, more romantic past.

Loss of romance

In an era of swift change we often find ourselves yearning for the way things used to be:

Lovingly written letters rather than dashed-off emails, secrets gathered from leather-bound books in dusty libraries instead of a quick internet search, roaring fires and flickering candles, now snuffed out by central heating and electric lighting.

Our reaction

As an antidote to the demise of mystery and wonder in our lives we fall in love with Brian Cox’s whimsical wonderings, we dabble in eastern spirituality and we lap up Harry Potter with child-like excitement.

In a desperate attempt to recreate an imagined past where time was plentiful and pleasures simple, we get misty eyed about analogue film, seek out crackly vinyl records and make roast potatoes, just the way Granny did.

And yet the knowledge that we could do all these things more easily if we just decided to, means that their romance can never be quite the same.

Fighting a losing battle

The principle of least effort states that humans will naturally choose the most convenient path. We love the independent butcher and grocer, but it’s raining and we’re in a hurry, so we go to Tesco.

We fight tooth and nail to save our local library, but it’s easier to stay at home, conduct our research via Google and read our novels on a Kindle.

We cause the death of the things we love, because we love convenience just that little bit more.

Embrace technology

There is a time for mourning the passing of old ways; for remembering nostalgically what it was like to get lost with a map printed on actual paper, rather than with a faulty satnav; for home-baking cupcakes, even though the corner shop sells a cheaper, tastier version.

But clinging to the past is ultimately futile. We have to accept that we are and always will be kings of convenience, lapping up every advance that makes our lives easier.

We can’t go back in time, and in many ways wouldn’t want to. Technological progress is generally positive; if it wasn’t we wouldn’t embrace it.

Medical advances keep us living longer and more healthily. Skype allows us to keep in touch with relatives overseas.

Technology isn’t the problem, but rather our over-reliance on it. Our challenge is to make it our servant, not our master.

So next time you save ten minutes by emailing rather than writing, make technology work for you. Rather than mindlessly frittering away that time on the computer, consider chatting to a colleague or taking a walk round the park.

Times may be a-changing, but people will always be mystifying, nature will always be fascinating and the sky will always be very, very beautiful, and only a glance away from your computer screen.