Bored? Then Forget the Internet

Glass painting is more interesting

I am shocked.

A recent poll reveals that 40% of Londoners say they need to be “connected to the internet” at all times (yes, “all”)  in order to remove the boredom of queueing.

This means 40% of Londoners are so addicted to distraction (sorry, Londoners, it’s what the poll says) they can’t bear the solitude of their own thoughts.

Now how have we let technology do this to us?

Here, there are two schools of thought about the effects of technology in particular and of tools in general.

One side says technology is neutral, a means to an end, and we are masters here.

The other side says, what we do with our hands and eyes affects the kinds of people we each are. So our very brains are transformed depending on whether we use a paintbrush or a keyboard, a spade or a diesel-powered mechanical digger.

Marshall McLuhan – never a man to “dim his headlights” – expressed this position nicely:

Human beings are the “sex organs of the machine world,” he wrote.

… meaning (in his view): machines use us to do their wishes.

This is the kind of thing which makes me feel human and connected

This is the kind of thing which makes me feel calm and focused

Well, that’s too extreme for me.

But I do stand firmly in the camp which says we’re fundamentally changed by the tools we choose to use.

And time and again I’ve noticed how, if someone is habituated to all the flashing banners and short-worded paragraphs of the internet – if someone lives by email and sending texts – they often have a real problem with the concentration which glass painting demands of them. Maybe they have a greater mental agility than me – I can’t jump anywhere near as fast as a fire-cracker – but … they can’t seem to stand still in the way that glass painting requires.

I’m not saying glass painting causes ‘the’ intelligence to grow. But I am saying it develops a particular kind of attention.

Alright, glass painting is not alone in that. It’s not unique.

I’m sure reading, meditation, worship, gardening … and a thousand other activities … will likewise develop a distinctive calmness of mind.

But a brush does it for me.

Can you imagine the joy of working with this tracing brush?

I prefer doing this to typing letters on a computer keyboard. And you?

And I am also very happy to spend a lot time alone.

Even queuing isn’t all that bad. I can think my own thoughts, I can imagine brush-strokes or think of colours, I can remember paintings I have seen …

After all, the mind is its own place.

So now – to paint glass.

And you too, I hope. So do please tell me when I can help with technique or answer your questions. Happy glass painting!

Stephen Byrne