The words have a familiar ring to them, but they actually are a garbling of two distinct phrases. ‘Through the Looking Glass (and What Alice Found There)’ was the title of Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel about Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. And then in 1 Corinthians, 13:12, we read ‘for now we see through a glass, darkly..’ (yes rabbis know a bit of the Christian scriptures).
When the two disparate sources come together, we get a memorable, maybe even a haunting, image. What does it mean to go through the looking glass? That in and of itself is a hard thing to puzzle out. But to do it darkly? There is something ominous about the idea, a sense of disappearing, perhaps even of losing oneself.
It was that sense of the image that came to my mind this week when I saw a picture of the famous Bolshoi ballerinas backstage during a performance. The dancers were lined along a corridor, fading into darkness and distance. But each dancer’s face was illuminated by the mobile phone they were holding, peering into intently.
I imagine these days were are all familiar with this phenomenon to one extent or another. A friend or family member constantly looking at their phone during a meal. At any meeting these days half of the attendees’ hands are under the table, attempting to surreptitiously monitor email, texts, stocks, scores, whatever it might be, on their ‘smart’ phones. A child who spends hours, and then more hours, staring into the screen of their laptop, only called out of their trance like state by a parent’s insistence that they come down to dinner. I could give you some of the astonishing statistics, but suffice it to say that we spend more and more of our time staring into digital screens, and the amount of time we spend doing this is increasing. Where (and when) it will end no one knows.
It is tempting, I understand. All of that information at our finger tips. The sense of instant availability, the need to respond to every ding, beep, ring, buzzer. But do you notice it is a bit harder to concentrate, to focus on an idea, to read a book, to study a text? Have you been sitting at your computer only to realize that somehow an hour has gone by when your intent was to just check something on Facebook for 10 minutes? The screen is always there, tugging at us, diverting our attention, taking our time, and giving us – what in return?
The Bolshoi dancers looked almost as if they were disappearing into their screens, drawn into some endless tunnel of data, 0s and 1s whipping past them at unfathomable speed, unable to withdraw their gaze. Alice tumbled through her looking glass into a new and bizarre world. We are fallowing her in our own way. What we will find and where we will land is anyone’s guess at this point. But more and more I am convinced it will not be a Wonderland.