Friday, April 13, 2012

Museum and malls: the cultural divide

AS I WANDERED about the Rembrandt exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art Friday, I soon realized that I was caught up not only in the Dutch master's paintings but also by a cultural divide. The rooms were quietly attended by a lot of folks - adults and young people - peering at the works with hand-held audio devices pressed against their ears, a clear indication that there is still interest in the details of what great art is all about as the recorded narrators effectively channeled information into the visitors' minds.

That was a remarkable difference from what you experience these days in the modern world of pop communication. You can 't avoid it at shopping malls and elsewhere as everyone seems to be preoccupied with texting trivia with friends. Or tweeting, or whatever they are doing when they burst Zombie-like from stores , the phones flattening their ears, into the paths of others as though the place is on tornado alert. That's not all. At the Post Office the other day, a burly fellow was talking so loudly to somebody on his cell phone that I could have joined the conversation from 20 feet away.

For many, the convenience of such technology has cut deeply into civil public behavior these days, whether by the mindless shoppers who attack you from all angles without acknowledging their rudeness, or by the bellowing guy at the Post Office. At least the museum visitors with hand-held audios went home knowing more than before. Unfortunately, we can't say the same about the other side.

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