Thursday, April 29, 2010

The finer things

(Note: This was written in the library while around a 100 people were studying around me. It's more of a spillage of thoughts, not a carefully crafted article)

I recently happened to read a rather intriguing article in the editorial page of the Economic Times. Does the name Joshua Bell ring a bell? (heh) He's a grammy-winning violinist who once decided to conduct a social experiment on being prodded by a Washington Post columnist. He donned a t-shirt, a baseball cap, a pair of rugged jeans and played his best compositions outside a Washington metro station, as one of those buskers by on the pavement. Out of over a thousand people who passed by, apparently, only seven stopped to listen, and, amazingly, one recognized him. There's stats on how much cash he collected from the people who stopped to listen (apparently the guy who recognized him payed him $20, i don't know how that's a sign of respect and all) but let's not go there.

Of course, the columnist who came up with this idea and later wrote about it got quite a few accolades for it, including the 2008 Pulitzer prize. (Oh, he won another Pulitzer in 2010. For an article on something along the lines parents killing their children by leaving them in cars. Don't ask) The point of this entire charade was to prove that people have "no time to stand and stare". That they pay substantial amounts, $100 for a half-decent seat, to listen to the same guy at his shows, but they really wouldn't stop for him at the metro station.

The idea stands. Strong and steady. We've all got quite a busy schedule. People don't have time today, there is always something or the other on their minds keeping them tensed and taut. What the columnist wanted to convey was that human relations aren't the key anymore, it's all about alienating yourself from human contact, being alone and calling it competition.

But you've gotta admit there's a better way of proving it. This experiment proves nothing except the author's talent of making 45 minutes sound like an epic.

I discussed this issue with a friend over tea. I honestly didn't see the big deal. Agreed, it's a racy life, nobody has the time to appreciate beauty even when it's staring you in the face. And as for recognizing the guy at the metro station - Thin about it, if Ustad Amjad Ali Khan or some other Indian virtuoso were to be standing in a below-average attire at CST station at 10 AM, how many people would recognize him?

What did come out of it, though, was a realization that there's people who're working on it. Working on trying to show the world how out-of-hands the pace of the world in general has gone. I know I'll get questioning looks and advice that it's a dog-eat-dog world, and survival of the fittest and all that, but I still firmly believe that the finer things of life are seldom appreciated.

But what change do I expect? What are these social experiments going to achieve? There is no way the amount of competition, the insanely workaholic habits of people in general are going to change. I guess all that matters is if one realizes what happiness is for oneself.

Whatever be the case, one thing's for sure. Joshua Bell in a metro station is not the way you prove this.

13 comments:

Rover said...

The experiment just seems to prove that people won't stop unless they've got it planned into their schedule - which, to me, seems to be perfectly reasonable.
Till I read the article by the columnist, I can't really say much more.
The first impression I get is that expecting people to stop in the midst of their hurry (bear in mind that a subway is a place where people come to commute, not to hang out) is somewhat presumptuous, no?

Aviatrix said...

nicely put. =)

JD said...

@Rover Agreed completely. It's quite presumptuous, not to mention completely beating the point of the experiment. And good point about the subway. Maybe at a Subway, it would've worked out a lot better :)

Ajachi said...

See, the whole idea of busking is that people who really aren't that much in a hurry will stop and listen. You're never going to get hundreds of people, quite simply because they have schedules and commitments. I don't think that the experiment revealed that we're too busy. It revealed that people respond more to the fact that they're listening to a Grammy winner, so he must be good. A random guy at the subway station isn't deemed worthy of their time.

shrey said...

Humans tend to tag events and people.They indeed have no time to stop and stare---They will stop only if the person or the event has the platinum tag with it...and platinum tags are seldom found in common places,amidst common men.

Workaholics aint gonna change...They are too ecstatic pursuing what they do...

Platinum-tagging events/people appeals to people and fetches the requisite money/attention/adulation.
Its a very popular business instrument.'Mahanga hai to acchha hai'

I cant recall exactly the name of the phenomenon but its somewhere linked to the 'WAG THE DOG' philosophy

sirtifyd jeeniuses said...

now that we know the formula, lets start winning some awards!!

it does prove that 'plenty fuckin stupid' is a phrase that is indeed needed.

i love ppl fucking with their own minds trying to reach stability. just love them.

guru

Nikita said...

There are a lot of workaholics out there who still want the finer things in life, they want time to just while away and do all the little things that they kept missing out on. But the competition is so cut throat and the work load so heavy and the pressure of keeping your job and keeping your family satisfied weighs them down. Its really sad but its what you've gotta do if you weren't born rich or if you're not content with a substandard quality of life.
And the main problem is that not too many people have the brilliance and skill to balance it all out and be able to LIVE everyday.

L

Eeshan said...

I had more fun reading the comments than the post. Specially Nikita's comment. The post in itself is quite pointless. Nothing that we don't really know. Stop wasting time and get your ass back to studying instead :D

DheerajBhaskar said...

It all goes to say branded dog poo is better than plain dog poo. Its all about the name-tags, the brands,...

And ofcourse Rover has a point, its quite rash to come to a conclusion that people are preoccupied in their schedules to appreciate beauty. The factor that whoever drew the conclusion did not consider is that everything has a time and a place and has to be appropriate.

Do the same experiment infront of an opera house and you'll have throngs listening, and by the same line of thought, you wouldn't be damned not to expect the same kind of reaction infront of say a fast-food restaurant.

Appropriate to the situation and the place is the key.

ARao said...

They would have all stopped if he was wearing a tutu. Don't blame the people.

RK said...

It's all about carefully crafted Neon Signs. And no one's to blame. The 'No time to stand and stare' is not a new phenomenan. WH Davis said it over a 100 years ago. Neon signs are lovely and bright. They easily overshadow the ones who stay out of their aura. We are human and will behave like humans do. No point in shedding tears that art in its raw form is not appreciated.

Workaholics will be the way they are as they have chosen to be so. Cut throat competitions and heavy work pressures may be what we have imposed upon ourselves. We can always choose not to run the rat race. There isn't just one road that we all must take. There are a thousand, and each one of us has a choice which one we he wants to take. Each one of us can choose the cool wooded path that's grassy and needs wear, and experiment to where it leads.

I agree with JD as he says 'I guess all that matters is if one realizes what happiness is for oneself.'

Sugar Magnolia said...

Columnist sounds like a dud. I've been disproving his conclusions everyday, I think.

In response to your comment on my post: I think impending academic doom on a full moon-night tends to make on philosophical :)

Thanks for linking.

Alok said...

I would agree with you slightly. As you said, the outcome of the experiment isn't related to the pace of life people lead.

It has got more to do with people not being able to recognize "beauty"; when the same music is presented in a classical music show, people think its "high art" or a "fine thing" and are willing to pay a lot of money to view it.

The experiment proves that it is not the music they appreciate, but the show.

Thus, on the one hand we have a grand classical music concert and on the other hand a street musician. This is all people see (or hear).


I disagree when you say that the location of the experiment wasn't proper. In fact, it was very apt.

The very point of the experiment was to see if people could appreciate the music in an environment where it would look ordinary. The music is loud enough for anyone who is able to appreciate it truly to take notice.

That people are in a hurry doesn't stop them from listening or from being able to comprehend the music. A 10 second interval listening to the music should be good enough.