I recently caught up with Benson Puah, the man who runs theÂ Esplanade-Theatres On the Bay, to see if technology is intruding into his world of live events.
I was curious to find out if all the competition for our leisure time had affected attendance at the many live performances that are held in his venue, a leading tourist and local attraction in Singapore.
After all, thereâ€™s never been such a grab for our leisure time and never has our leisure time been as fragmented as it is now.
I read an article last week that said we were even trying to fill our downtime with â€śmicro-momentsâ€ť.
In gyms, as we cycle away, we play Scrabble on the iPad. Or as we run, we listen to music and watch television. We use our gadgets as tools to stave off boredom so that every little bit of downtime we have, we look for something to do.
â€śMobile phones â€¦ let people relieve the tedium of exercising the grocery store line, stoplights or dulls in the telephone conversation,â€ť says Matt Richtel, author of the article.
â€śThe technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining and potentially productive.â€ť
So these days we donâ€™t only multi-task… we hyper-task. And Attention Deficit Disorder is no longer a condition but the order of the day.
I find myself doing just that with the iPad. Iâ€™ve found it very difficult to read any article or book at length on the device because my mind is constantly wandering and wondering if someone has just emailed me, if I should update my Facebook or if I should check out this word or that or, how about a game of Scrabble?
â€śBut donâ€™t you do that anyway even with a real book?â€ť asks a friend.
â€śYes, but with the iPad because everything is in one place, itâ€™s so easy to be distracted,â€ť I reply.
So with all these weapons of mass distraction before us, it is very easy to be, well, distracted.
So where was I? Oh yes, Benson Puah and the Esplanade.
The good news is, attendance for live events at his venue has been rising. Since its opening in October 2002, he tells me, more than 10 million people have attended concerts and performances in the centre.
About 3,000 performances will be held this year, out of which 85% are presented by Esplanade. The annual Mosaic Music Festival in March, started by Esplanade in 2005, has grown from 65,000 attendees to 100,000 this year. A 2010 survey estimates that 14% of the attendees were tourists.
Benson sees digital media as an ally of the performing arts, rather than a competitor for our leisure time. He cites a survey by the National Endowment of the Arts in the US which debunks the myth that new media will replace live performances.
â€śIn fact, if you are into new media, you are more likely to go to a live performance and the more active you are in all forms of media, the more experimental you are with discovering and trying new acts. Humans are social beings. There is no replacement for engagement in a social setting.â€ť
There is also no replacement, I think, for real downtime.
The article mentioned earlier points to one side effect of constantly filling our time with â€śmicro-momentsâ€ť.
â€śWhen people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas,â€ť Richtel says.
It contihnues that scientists at the University of California found that â€śwhen rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration, do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experienceâ€ť.
They suspect these findings may also apply to how humans learn.
So next time you get some downtime, remember â€“ go out and do something new, catch a live act or something, and not be like a hamster in a cage… with an iPad.