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An Unedited Conversation About Awareness

An Unedited Conversation About Awareness
Craig Gemmell

Last week was mostly a typical one—planned and chance meetings, conversations, writing, reading, calls, emails, sleeping, eating, the works—until last Friday, when I did something novel: I sat and talked with students – particularly, senior prefects Ella and Zac in the first Diverse Thinkers podcast. We sat in my office, each with a microphone, and stilted beginnings gave way to authentic conversation. As we got rolling, I almost forgot that the record button had been pressed.

A strange concept, podcasts. Sit and talk into microphones and somehow, seemingly magically, talk gets sequestered into a memory card and then conversation is suddenly more permanent, making it perhaps a bit more abidingly real. And since our freestyle, one-take approach means that my conversation with Ella and Zac was unscripted and unedited, the whole process was especially real.

The theme of this, our first diverse thinkers podcast, was themes. The theme was themes. I imagine a hipster reflecting on that: very meta, dude.

We talked some about why thinking thematically as a school has value in shaping culture. Zack and Ella mused some on ways the themes we’ve explored as a school over the past three years figured into their experiences and influenced the life of the school. Their responses to my questions allowed me to see that through the year of integrity in 2016-17 and the year of kindness in 2017-18 these themes had an impact. And their openness to our newly launched theme this year—awareness—led me to believe that they were paying attention to this matter of awareness. That they were, in other words, aware of awareness (again - very meta)!

Over the past week since we recorded this first podcast, I’ve been mulling over the strange, complex interplay among; technology, memory, and culture, and I’ve consequently been awash in a vortex of questions that has persisted – even as the questions themselves have evolved.

Some of my first questions come because I admit to long being a closeted luddite: I live begrudgingly in a world of technology – begrudging because I can’t do my job without phone, computer or email—literally can’t do it!  Yet all of this data flowing around and through me, from and to others, quite numbs my senses and compromises my memory. Now I literally email myself reminders so that I can “forget.” The computer becomes a proxy for a brain that is so loaded with signals from the world that there is no space to remember all of the pesky details necessary to lead an analog life. Where did I leave my backpack?  I forget, but the digital world remembers for me—I just pull an app up on my phone and, voila, the Tile in my backpack sends a signal, letting me know that I need to walk back to the Cooper Center. What would my life be like if not for all of this technology? Would l be more awake, more present, or less so? Would I do my job better or worse? Would I be a more or less effective parent and spouse and son and friend?

I realize these questions are actually extraneous because this technology train we’re on is only speeding up, making our collective inertia greater by the minute. I just need to buckle in and start paying attention to the what is happening out my window.

I think about my time with Ella, Zac, a digital recorder and some handheld microphones as an important event for me because it was, by virtue of technology, not just about our conversation in that moment. For even if I’m the only one who listens to this first podcast, the sitting, recording and then listening again will allow me to reflect on some important ideas, and ideals, that do matter. Ideas that have the ability to shape individuals and their ecology in community. And, just maybe, this and subsequent podcasts might precipitate broader conversations.

The real questions: how can we be more mindful of each other in the ever-shifting tangle of communities in which we are each embedded given the inevitability of technology? More pointedly: as we head into an indefinite future, what are our principles of engagement in a newly fused digital world?

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