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An Antidote to Social Media Addiction

Posted on Monday, Dec 18th 2017

I’ve thought a lot about the world we’re marching towards in which virtual interactions and relationships far outweigh real, in-person exchanges. The art of conversation, body-language, human and humane interaction – holding hands, looking at people with meaningful warmth – are fading away.

I write this for those who share my discomfort.

For the last 13 years, we’ve hosted an Arts salon at our house in Menlo Park for Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. We usually have these on a Saturday evening. We first have drinks and hor d’oeuvres, then a sit-down dinner, followed by the salon. The house is lit up in candlelight. We have ~20 people.

At the salon, people share music, poetry, photography, paintings, dance, theater – whatever captures their fancy.

Some noteworthy examples over the years would help you appreciate the style of these exchanges …

One year, our Israeli friend Lavi, who is also an excellent Flamenco guitarist, and I rehearsed in advance, and did a performance of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry embellished with Flamenco guitar music.

Another year, our photographer friend William Carter, once upon a time, a photojournalist for Life Magazine, showed his photos of the Kurds in Iraq in 1965. The Getty Museum has acquired a collection of these photos. Bill told stories and did a slide show, giving us a window into a world none of us have been to.

His wife Ulla, over the years, has read through chapters of her in-progress memoir, which she has completed this summer. Her first husband was the bureau chief of the LA Times in the Middle East and was killed in the war in Tehran in 1979. Ulla’s family in Germany also went through the world wars. She has written (and read to us) stories of her family’s piano being thrown out of the window; of her time in Cairo as a young woman, and much more. A fascinating life story.

Joanna has told stories of being hidden in a circus in Armenia behind the iron curtain as her family was plotting an escape to America. Another year, she read a story about her visit to Russia as a teenager to go on an archeological dig.

Alain is a mathematics aficionado. He often speaks extempore about math concepts like Infinity, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, etc. And he speaks like a poet. The best way to describe his Art is Math-Poetry. And it is delightful.

Emmanuel, who is a world class sleep scientist, also has a passion for archeology. He has shared some of his precious finds.

Bill is also a Jazz Clarinet player. He has performed solo, and sometimes with Tony, who sings Jazz. Eric has often sang Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel, etc., with his guitar. More recently, he has written original songs for the salons. He and I even collaborated on a song – I wrote the lyrics, he set it to music and sang.

I dance from time to time to Indian music. One year, I did a solo performance of D.H. Lawrence’s Rocking Horse Winner.

Bernardo, a talented Chilean architect, does slide shows of his sketches. Dominique and Ari show their photography. Alan, Francine, and I have often shown our paintings. Pradeep tells stories from Indian mythology. Kate, our investment banker friend with a PhD in Spanish Literature from Harvard, used to read a lot of poetry, including Dr. Seuss. She passed away two years back. Joanna and I still read a lot of poetry. Servane is a book artist, and a damn good one. She has taught some of us how to make beautiful books. Dominique made two photo books recently, inspired by her.

And so on.

A part of me fantasizes about Arts Salons in various parts of the world that would harness creativity in small, personal groups, facilitate friendships, substantive, sophisticated discussions, and an engaging communion of ideas.

I am a bit tired of the superficiality and pettiness that most of society is steeped in. And social media has been a great amplifier of superficial interactions. It’s time to stop and think what we’re doing with ourselves.

Our brains are turning into mush.

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