During an interview for a new project, I met with a person who shared profound thoughts with me about whether we take time to wonder or reflect anymore.
Through this engaging conversation, this person shared thoughts from an article he read reflecting on our culture of instant knowledge desiring no time for reflection. I never got the name of the article because I was so intent on listening that I forgot to ask. In an expected manner, I began to think about this with respect to the practice of architecture.
The ability or opportunity to ponder something and wrestle with an answer has become rare, I believe largely as a byproduct of technology. I am guilty as most of you are in turning to some computer device and searching the Internet for answers to most of life’s trivial questions or searching how to do something on YouTube. Most of the time we simply want to know – right now. It’s inveterate to this generation and infecting mine. This is fine when one is in an unfamiliar area looking for a restaurant or needing to find the correct road when lost. A GPS or a smart phone can really be great thing. The social ramifications of social media are outside of my interest here, but there are overlapping consequences. Oddly enough I’m sharing these thoughts through a blog no less.
As an architect I am enthralled with the notion of pondering, contemplation and consideration of the unknown. Slowing down at times is necessary to produce inspirational work I believe. Yet the impact of time and money on architecture constantly cheats this process. This is what most architects have to deal with – our clients hire us for more than a signature building. They have to open on time; we can’t turn down the noise in our minds.
I get concerned that the shift in paradigm our culture has demanded with instant knowledge and information has weakened our ability to think critically. As architects, we utilize technology for objectivity in design because the demands for performance has skyrocketed. I don’t wish to go back. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be nice if we could slow down long enough to contemplate an idea, contemplate the effort taken to move something, change something, insert something, create something, and work something over…something. Would that remove the banality?
The “have to have it by 5:00” type of demand often discards the permission to think. I have to say some of my best ideas have been birthed by the rare luxury of time. Even the things that I write have come from time wrestling with an idea, a thought, a belief system, a structure, an opinion. Our first thoughts are not always correct, our initial assumptions are not always precise and if given opportunity to think about something not only could we improve, but we could make our life richer. Technology and the gathering of information has certainly led to many advances (and kept us alive), yet I believe we have become the benefactors of prior ingenuity more than ones to perpetuate it. Does this make us lazy?
I have to wonder if our ability to reason through architecture’s issues and generate solutions weakens as we increase in information. Yes, I’m being extreme to make a point – you’re already thinking of a counterpoint right? New challenges, new struggles, and uncharted territory you say? Don’t send comments to persuade me to embrace technology – I haven’t given up on it.
My thoughts migrate to that farmer a century or two ago that had to fix something with the limited materials he owned. He might have spent the day pondering about it and then worked until dusk after thinking of a solution. No internet, no phone, no library – just a man and his hands and a few limited tools working through a solution.
I rarely see the interest in the need to ponder and reflect on solutions because we assume someone else before us has already done that. The information is shared and the struggle is dismissed because we simply look something up and the answer is there. We haven’t the patience for it, we haven’t the time for the pain.
I have to wonder what that really costs.