The State Fair, The Circle, and James Turrell

by Rob Tiller

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It was clear and brisk in Raleigh early Saturday afternoon when Sally and I got on the bus for the N.C. State Fair. My last fair visit was with Jocelyn when she was in elementary school, about 14 years ago, and just before she began to much prefer going with friends rather than dad. In the years since I haven’t expected that the fun would outweigh justify the headaches of traffic jams and crowds. The convenience of the bus, which stopped on Hillsborough Street just a short walk from us, made us re-do the fun/not-fun calculus, and off we went.
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Our main objective was the agriculture exhibits. With most days full of hurry and technology it’s good to slow down and reconnect a little with the rural past. It’s terribly sad to think about mistreatment and needless slaughter of farm animals, but there’s also something sweet about getting close to the gorgeous prize-winning animals at the fair. The chickens and turkeys were amazingly varied, and the cows were generally good-tempered. I’m with Whitman: “I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self-contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.”
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We also enjoyed the people watching. There were, of course, rural people, but it seemed like the crowd was much more ethnically diverse than years ago. We took in a free show by a troop of acrobats, including a handstand master. \13 10 26_4838
We also so a free show of stunt BMX bikers and motorcyclists. These guys were awesome.
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Also on Saturday I finished reading Dave Eggers’s new novel, The Circle. Set just a few years into the future, it’s about a young woman who goes to work for a tech company, the Circle, which sounds like a combination of Google and Facebook, and which has some cult-like qualities. It seeks total involvement and devotion from employees and may have a dream of world domination. The Circle promotes a vision of extreme transparency, pushing public officials and others to live completely on camera, open to full time universal internet scrutiny.

The idea is interesting, but the writing had about as much charm and verve as Newsweek. The subject of the book is how technology affects the human mind, but there wasn’t any depth to the characters, or much in the way of psychological insight.

Still, I liked the central thought experiment: what would happen if everyone’s life was totally visible and potentially viewable by everyone else? As The Circle notes, it would probably reduce crime. It would probably initially bring a feeling of a new kind of community. But would it destroy the possibility of human intimacy? Probably. And without intimacy, what would remain of meaning?

On Sunday morning I flew to Los Angeles for the annual meeting of the Association of Corporate Counsel, where I’m doing a presentation. In the afternoon I went to the L.A. County Museum of Art, where I wanted to see the special exhibit of the work of James Turrell. He’s best known for his work involving light and space, including environments that completely baffle our understanding of boundaries.

Turrell expects his viewers to enter into his work, literally and psychologically. I found it rewarding to do so. Although the work is primarily concerned with perception, it also inspires a surprising amount of feeling. For me it had some of the calming effects of meditation. I found myself looking at light differently as I left the museum.
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