Life ‘Unplugged’ – why technology is clouding our perception of beauty
Philosophers argue that beauty is essential to life itself, a value so dear to humans that it can overcome evils. But what if I told you that by going about your daily routines, you’re greatly diminishing your chance to harness the power of beauty?
What if by each email you send, app you download, and screen you touch, you’re making your life less beautiful?
“I’m realizing every day that sometimes the most beautiful things in life can’t be downloaded.”
We’ve been conditioned to believe that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ that it is completely unique to the individual. But what if we have it all wrong and beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder?
“What if our perception of beauty is actually a response to natural selection – something pre-wired in our minds through centuries of Darwinian adaptations?”
In his TED talk entitled, ‘A Darwinian Theory of Beauty,’ Denis Dutton argues just that. After interviewing people all across the globe about their tastes in art, he found that perceptions of beauty transcend international borders. In almost every instance, people were drawn to images of natural landscapes over cityscapes, and generally preferred nature-themed paintings to any other subject.
“Consider briefly…the magnetic pull of beautiful landscapes. People in very different cultures all over the world tend to like a particular kind of landscape…that just happens to be similar to the savannas where we evolved. This landscape shows up today on calendars, on postcards, and in the design of golf courses and public parks.”
These pristine, ancient landscapes were considered most beautiful even by cultures who had never seen them before.
“Human beings everywhere find beauty in the natural – in the environments from which humans evolved.”
After listening to Dutton’s TED talk, I began to reflect on my own perceptions of beauty. As a city dweller, I rarely have the opportunity to spend time in beautiful natural landscapes – but as a Reebok employee, I do find myself reverting back to a more primal existence, one more closely linked to the humanity so highly revered by Dutton’s interviewees. At Reebok, we are encouraged to take an hour of our day to head to a boxing or Les Mills class, to yoga or to Reebok’s very own CrossFit Gym, RCF1, to do workouts grounded in functional movements using minimalistic equipment.
“Could it be that taking a step back from technology is the answer to bringing more beauty into our lives?”
I’ve certainly found that at the very least, this is true in my work outs. There’s something about jumping and running and sweating – picking up a barbell twice your weight, the sound of gloves against a heavy bag or your feet hitting the pavement, that awakens the same sense of beauty that I believe Dutton’s subjects felt from viewing these nature scenes.
“We think we need watches, and apps, fancy weight machines and treadmills, but all that these things really do is remove the natural, and thus the beautiful, from our workouts.”
By tracking every calorie, pacing around to hit our daily step goals and relying on a monitor to tell us when something is hard – we forget that our bodies, and what they can do, are amazing, beautiful, and natural.
And who’s to say that seeking the ‘natural’ should stop at our workouts? What about seeking out the honest and natural in the foods we eat? Research says that by eliminating added sugars in our diet, cravings subside and natural foods begin to taste sweet and delicious. And who decided that our work lives should be constantly ‘plugged in’? We’ve become conditioned to believe that shooting off an email to someone across a cube wall is normal.
“We’ve been overtaken by routine and overrun with choice – and it’s diminishing our human spirit.”
I’m not saying it’s necessary or realistic to go back to the pre-historic era, or ditch technology and innovation. That’s ridiculous. But maybe the key to finding beauty in our lives, and in the positive feelings it elicits, is a lot easier than we think… It’s in a face-to-face conversation, a wholesome meal, or even at the bottom of a push-up.