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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Turple

Have we lost our sense of awe?

With the recent opening of a brand new light rail system here in Ottawa, I was expecting to feel shared excitement and anticipation to step on the train and experience a brand new way to get around in this city. Instead, all I heard were complaints: the train broke down a few mornings in a row at rush hour, some people's commutes are now longer because they have to take a bus then a train. What struck me and saddened me about this is that we seem to have lost our sense of awe. With all the conveniences of modern technology and everything at our fingertips, we now expect the world to bow to our every whim, need and desire.

To build our light rail system, a tunnel had to be excavated beneath the city, a tunnel that didn't exist before. From nothing, something was created so that now a train runs beneath the downtown core. When you take a moment to think about it, about all the planning, year-round outdoor labour, often in inclement weather, problems that were faced and solved, delays, perseverance, dedication and sheer will it took to bring this to completion, how is it not awe-inspiring?

With everything now at our fingertips and apps for every imaginable service, we seem to think that whatever we want magically appears. But there are a number of people involved in every service we receive. Life moves so fast now, we've forgotten that everything that happens is a miracle in itself: all the elements that have to be perfectly orchestrated, the people who show up to deliver the service, the idea in the first place to create a service. That meal you ordered from Uber Eats: someone had to cook it, package it, drive it to your door. You basically have a team of people making this seemingly simple food delivery happen.

I'm reminded here of a great excerpt from one of Louis C.K.'s stand up acts (I know he's had some personal issues but this statement is no less true). He was speaking about how everyone has a story / complaint about flying, whether it's about delays, airports or luggage, airline staff or other passengers, and he said (I'm paraphrasing but it's pretty close): "Basically you're sitting in a chair, in the sky." There was emphasis put on "in the sky". How can that very thought not stop us in our tracks when we're spinning negative? We're FLYING. Pretty amazing for a species without wings.

Slaves to the Screen

Ever notice the faster you drive, the less you see? It's the same thing in life. Beauty surrounds us every day but we're moving so fast or we're so focused on our smartphones, we're blind to it. Especially at this time of year, with ever-changing fall colours, beauty is truly everywhere. How many of us stop to admire it, to drink it in without pulling our phones out and figuring out how to get the best Instagram pic? The very act of trying to record every moment takes us out of the moment. Try this: go for a walk at a leisurely pace without your phone. You may notice how much easier it is to not constantly worry about capturing the perfect image and how much richer the experience is when it's simply a walk for no one else but you.

The loss of our sense of awe is no small thing - it can have dire consequences: setting the Amazon forest on fire, for example, or any type of crime committed against another, is a lack of awe towards and respect for our surroundings and our fellow humans. We rape, pillage, destroy, kill - these acts are only possible when we've lost our sense of awe, when miracles become mere things, devoid of any intrinsic value, to be manipulated as we see fit.

Even capturing that "perfect" moment - once it's been posted on social media, it's become a commodity, something to be consumed by others. We've stripped the moment of its magic and sold it for our own personal gain. It's one thing to take photos for our own albums, keepsakes and historical records, which we've done for over a century; it's entirely another to curate our lives for public consumption where everything and everyone at our disposal becomes a mere prop in the theatrical set of our "lives".

Earlier this year, I was hiking near Lake Moraine in Banff National Park. The lake itself is stunning and an international destination: a body of bright, glacier-fed turquoise water high up in the Rockies. It's now become a huge draw for the Instagram crowd, so much so that tourists flagrantly ignored multiple signs stating that certain sections surrounding the lake should not be tread on because they were trying to allow rejuvenation of fragile vegetation. But the tourists didn't care. They wanted that perfect Instagram selfie and nothing was going to get in their way. That's when I understood: we've lost our sense of awe toward anything other than ourselves.

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