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The lost art of presence: A lesson from selfies

Infinite selfies

Inspiration GP | Ground Picture | Shutterstock | Collage by Aleteia

Daniel Esparza - published on 05/18/24

Perhaps, in our hyper-connected world, the ability to be fully present, to truly absorb the world around us, is becoming a lost art.

There I was, mid-lecture in my university aesthetics class, explaining the medieval notion of claritasand how it shaped Gothic architecture, when a flash caught my eye. Not the kind that illuminates artistic or philosophical genius, but the kind that lets you know someone just captured moment on a phone screen. A student was taking a selfie.

Now, I’ve witnessed my fair share of classroom distractions: whispered conversations, stolen glances at phones, even the occasional shopping spree on a laptop during a debate or a lecture. But this felt different. This wasn’t a momentary lapse in focus; it was a deliberate act, a choice to document oneself amidst a discussion that was meant to inspire.

A wave of frustration washed over me. I felt as though I had failed to spread the enthusiasm for thoughtful reflection. Was the idea of natural light filtered through a stained-glass window in order to produce a natural and supernatural space less captivating than a filtered selfie? Was the exploration of the crossroads of art, philosophy, and theology less interesting than the instant gratification of online validation? Could it be that I was not really delivering? Was I making the subject boring? Or was my audience simply disrespectful?

But then, a different thought emerged. Maybe these weren’t acts of defiance or disregard, but rather symptoms of a deeper cultural shift. Perhaps, in our hyper-connected world, the ability to be fully present, to truly absorb the world around us, is becoming a lost art.

Kaleidoscope selfie

Instead of letting myself go down in a judging spiral, I saw an opportunity. Maybe, as educators (even as parents), we needed to shift the focus. Instead of simply imparting knowledge, we could also guide students towards rediscovering the power of attention.

So far, here’s what I believe we can do:

1
Cultivate Curiosity

Lectures are fundamental, but true learning often sparks from a sense of wonder. Framing discussions as explorations rather than pronouncements can ignite a curiosity that (hopefully) goes beyond the need for social media validation.

2
Embrace Silence

In a world filled with constant notifications, silence has become an alien concept. But within its quietude lies a space for contemplation, for truly internalizing the information presented. Encouraging moments of silence might allow students to absorb and make connections beyond the immediate need to capture a moment.

3
Celebrate Deep Dives

The age of information overload can lead to a superficial understanding of many things. Instead, encourage students to delve deeper into specific topics. A well-researched paper, a curated presentation, or even a thoughtful class discussion (maybe even a loose comment!) can offer a kind of experience that transcends fleeting, instant gratification.

4
Lead by Example

Our own attentiveness speaks volumes. Putting away phones during lectures, making eye contact with students, and actively listening to their questions all demonstrate the value of being present.

Ultimately, the rediscovery of presence is a journey for all of us, not just for the younger generation. It requires a conscious effort to step away from the digital clamor and truly engage with the world around us. It’s about recognizing the beauty in the unfiltered moment, the power of focused learning, and the joy of connecting with others beyond screens and social networks.

Perhaps, in rediscovering these things, we might just rediscover ourselves as well.

Tags:
Catholic LifestyleEducationFamily & EducationPersonal Growth
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