Paying Attention in a World of Attention Deficit: Selfies, The Mona Lisa and #FranceTrip15

Staying in the moment. Being mindful. Listening to understand; not waiting to talk. Detaching from online devices and the digital world. Making space to think. Just a few of the mantras that many (including me) are trying to learn from.

And it’s difficult. In a fast paced world where instant responses are expected once message is sent and ‘Did you get my message’ has become a acceptable greeting (for some), our brains are constantly wired. We’re fighting to keep our heads above water against the tsunami of daily information which engulfs us from a multitude of devices, screens and targeted marketing.

The side effects of constant distraction and connectivity took centre stage when I visited the Louvre in Paris this week as part of our annual school trip, #FranceTrip15. Leading a party of 43 children through the world’s busiest and most famous art gallery can be a stressful experience and so I certainly can’t claim that I took in as much of the history, art and architecture as I would have liked, but what struck me this year was the number of people who didn’t have 43 children to headcount, but still couldn’t pay attention to what was on show.

Headsets, audio/visual guides, devices, phones, cameras, tablets – all forming a wall of digital filter between the visitors’ senses and the paintings which hung heavily and unappreciated on the historic walls. Statues who used to flex their chiselled muscles as they were admired for minutes at a time by the throng of international visitors, now sigh wearily, as another iPad or phone quickly appears, clicks, and then disappears with perhaps an occasional giggle at their naked torsos.

And the selfies; those inconsiderate selfies which have risen to new heights of self-indulgence with the latest piece of fiendish 21st Century engineering: the Selfie Stick. Leading the children through the grand corridor now held an added layer of danger as we ducked, swerved and hurdled the selfie-sticks, wielded with the proficiency of a 3 year old boy with his first light-sabre, as their oblivious owners would pout, take, retake and filter their self-portraits, blissfully unaware of the works of romantic Italian artists that looked down, unloved, from the walls.

Our party pauses as a large man bustles into one of the children without noticing. He points his iPad furiously at an oil canvas, then another, and another before continuing his march through the corridor. A date with social media presumably awaits where his photos will join an infinite number of others on the internet and he can sit back and relax, enjoying ‘the moment’ as the beeps and vibrations notify him of the likes, retweets and comments that his online friends will reward his efforts with.

And then we find a peaceful moment. In a quiet and less-trodden corner, sits a young French artist, painting on canvas. We stand with the children and watch as 15 minutes pass. The teacher urge takes over and I quickly round up those with a real interest in art so we can look more closely at his palette and admire his patience, mixing and careful use of several brushes. A man, free from the pressures of time, deadline or distraction who achieves no quick-win, measurable outcome, metric or impact but who models the power of mindfulness, with an air of timeless ease. I stand still, quietly fighting the inner urge of impatience to ‘press on’ until it is no longer bearable and, after another frantic headcount and reminder to stay in pairs, we make for the main event, The Mona Lisa.

A moment of peace watching an artist applying his craft from what felt like a bygone era...
A moment of peace watching an artist applying his craft from what felt like a bygone era…

This experience is as unique as the painting itself and we join the throng of amateur paparazzi who inch forward in a trance-like pack until they are close enough to hold up their phones and cameras. Selfie-sticks not allowed here apparently; some relief but this doesn’t deter the self-portraiters.

Mona Approach
The throng approaches, viewing Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous work only through the lens…
Taking a Selfie with the Mona Lisa
Taking a Selfie with the Mona Lisa

People used to travel to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa; then they visited to take a photo of the Mona Lisa; today they stand with their back to Leonardo Da Vinci’s most intriguing work, with the world’s most famous painting consigned to the background of their very own masterpiece (there’s even a blog post I found online which gives advice on the best way to take a Mona Lisa Selfie).

The question, ‘what is she smiling at?’ has never been more appropriate…

mona Lisa Selfie 2

One thought on “Paying Attention in a World of Attention Deficit: Selfies, The Mona Lisa and #FranceTrip15”

  1. Very interesting and thought provoking, Mr Rees. When I think back to my childhood and now my children’s early childhood the flashbacks and memories that are most vivid are the ones that have not relied on technology. My children love to watch videos of themselves from birthdays, Christmas and holidays and we all enjoy looking back at fun times, but this can replace “ I remember when” with “do you remember the picture or the video of“. I also find my memory being replaced by my Smartphone on many occasions – cannot remember my mobile number and it lets me know when it’s time to buy a birthday card. Useful?

    Many of us have become obsessed with sharing every detail of our lives with the world; I’m sure many a Christmas list will have at the very top – Selfie Stick!

    We all need to try and make time to stand and stare. A good example of this was during our visit to the museum this week. The adults reminded the children, on several occasion, to read the information and to look not glance at the objects on display. However, the adults did photograph many of the fascinating relics and information for further use in school – very useful.

    Can we get the balance right? Take time to stand and stare without looking through an artificial lens.

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