Patrick Finn

Through the Looking Glass: Why our World Feels Different

Pretend you are sitting at a chess board. Imagine all the talents, training, and experience you currently have, are actually chess skills. You studied chess in school, you played chess in your spare time, and over the years, you developed skills and relationships that expand and deepen your experience of chess. Whatever else is happening in the world, there is one thing you know:you are a chess player.

Now, imagine looking across the chess board, and seeing your opponent. In this scenario, your opponent is a five-year- old. You effortlessly engage your understanding of the game while connecting with this young person. Halfway through, the child across from you declares that, “from now on, this piece can move anywhere, and all of my pawns can fly.” And just like that, your talents, training, and experience are irrelevant. Your identity as a chess player drops away, and everything feels different.

We have had this feeling before. When new technology—in the form of the printing press—arrived in the west, everything changed. People at the time spoke openly about the ways the world felt different. Many complained about new technology’s superficiality, its corrupting influence on the youth, and its challenge to the necessary secrecy of politics. Others lauded its creative, transformative potential.

Back at our chessboard, we can imagine these conversations. You can explain to your opponent that “this is not the way chess is played,” or, “we need the rules for it to be a game,” or most commonly, an appeal to history, “this is the way chess has always been played…for hundreds of years!” Is there any scenario is which you can imagine this approach working? Of course not, because your reasoning is no match for the power of the idea that pawns that can fly.

We live in the midst of the largest change in technology in human history. All of the rules of the game have changed. The change happened faster, and to more of us at once, than any other shift we have previously encountered. What research shows us is that if we keep playing chess the same way, or merely try to incorporate the notion that pawns can fly, in order keep all our old approaches in place, we will fail miserably and feel constantly displaced. Nothing will work. What we know, and how we know it, bears no relation to the reality of the current state of the game. We are through the looking glass. The feelings this brings up are strong, and can be hard to engage. But, if they come from the reality of our time, we have to feel them to live.

In this session, we will collectively explore the new rules of the game. If we can understand them, our talents, training, and experience can be reborn in the new world. Taking the best of the old, and allowing it to die in its earlier form so it can live in the new order, is the definition of the term renaissance. It’s a process that is creative, innovative, and its potential energy is beyond anything in human history. It is also scary, and feels deeply unsettling, but come on; how cool is it that pawns can fly?

About Patrick Finnimage – Dr. Patrick Finn

An active artist and academic, Dr. Patrick Finn studies performance: how it works, what constitutes excellence in performance, and what performance studies offer our daily lives. He is an Associate Professor in the School of Creative and Performing Arts, and Computational Media Design at The University of Calgary, and Chair of Research and Innovation at The Edmonton Digital Arts College. He works with companies, government and nonprofit organizations, artists, athletes, and anyone interested in bringing attention to the ways they do what they do. He unites his work using Aristotle’s phrase, “you are what you repeatedly do,” and brings focus to the approach by considering everything as technology. Technology, taken in the broad sense, involves what, and how, we do what we do. Thus, technology can be a physical gesture, the organization of a meeting, or the use of tools as part of our attempt to engage, connect, and flourish.