We are all aware of how sped up our lives are in the digital age, but the effects our culture’s fast-answer, instant gratification culture is far-reaching, especially in one important area of study: the humanities. In some ways this makes sense, since truly studying literature, art and philosophy takes time. At the same time, many argue that studying the humanities is necessary for to the healthy future of our world because spending time reading, reflecting and understanding can teach us how to have empathy for those with different perspectives and can perhaps provide us with happier and more fulfilling lives. As its name implies, studying the humanities can teach us how to be human.
Institutions of higher learning are doing their best to encourage students to discover the importance of the humanities. One Harvard art history professor goes assigns her students the task of spending three hours looking at a single work of art in a museum. She’s quick to point out that while her students are “initially horrified” they admit that by hour three, they are seeing details they simply didn’t in hour one.
While efforts like these are encouraging, students often feel pressure to consume as much information as possible as quickly as possible. Today’s student is recognizes the value of learning how to code far more than the value of reading Plato. In the age of start-ups and apps, this isn’t surprising, but devaluing the importance of learning broadly and thinking deeply might impact students in the long run. It’s been shown that through graduates in the arts and humanities learn clear and critical thinking, knowledge of other cultures and emotional intelligence, which allows them to reach high levels of success in their careers, especially in politics and business.
The goal of the humanities is to cultivate the individual and cultivate the citizen, which ultimately benefits society. While studying the humanities alone might not save the world, given its positive side-effects, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Simply encouraging students to unplug from their devices and reflect can serve as a starting point for this type of shift. A digital detox can open up time for students to read a book, visit a museum or create their own art, activities which will serve to broaden their horizons and help them see the world from a different perspective.