Will Coco soon be everybodyís concert companion? If you like to know whatís going on as you listen to musical masterpieces, it may certainly help. Having picked up the gadget as you entered the hall, you could glance down at it as the music plays and read: "Stravinsky's virtuosic orchestration reaches a climax in this passage, where the illusion of WHOOSHES! is created by passing lines quickly from instrument to instrument." Later the screen encourages you to listen for short repetitive rhythms as "the Firebird struts her stuff". And so on.
For some, the advice about what to look out for in the music and the explanations of how certain effects are achieved will enhance the concert-going experience. Others will find it distracting. Certainly, using Coco will engage the listener at another level from the one which simply absorbs the music without trying to understand it.
The desire to know is an important human motivation and discovering answers is exciting. Our brains enjoy stimulation and are satisfied when understanding dawns. But responding to life with those parts of us which donít seek explanation can also bring delight. Sometimes just to be absorbed in whatís happening around us without reflecting on it brings a different kind of awareness.
In the Bible, Job asks many questions but at the end he simply accepts what is (Job 42.1-6). There may be times today when we might give our minds a rest and just be.
Beagle 2, Britainís first space mission to Mars, which took off yesterday from Kazakhstan, is due to land on Mars early on Christmas Day.
A classic example of the human urge to know. The Surveyor probe has sent back a large amount of information but that is nothing compared with how our knowledge might be expanded when Beagle 2 lands in December.
The next Christmas day is 86 million miles away as far as Beagle 2 is concerned. The first Christmas Day also opened up new possibilities for knowledge. Not facts about the universe but truths about our lives. The birth of Christ revealed new information and inspiration about God, and about human living, which has expanded the scope of the spiritual lives of millions since.
Today letís celebrate the excitement we feel when we discover something new, both about the world, and about how to live in it.
One third of British teenagers never pick up a book from choice.
Written words give great pleasure. They are a source of knowledge and entertainment, of encouragement and wisdom. There are 4 thousand million people in the world who have the ability to enjoy them. But they are no luxury item. For the worldís 900 million illiterate adults, two thirds of whom are women, lack of ability to read affects employment prospects, access to information about rights and about necessary skills, and ability to participate in the democratic process.
The decade from 1st January this year is the United Nations Literacy Decade. All over the world strenuous efforts are being made to raise literacy levels by 50% over the next ten years. But in Britain, young people donít seem to want to make full use of the possibilities given to them by the ability to read.
As schools start their new term, teachers will be working hard to encourage their pupils to develop their capacity to understand and enjoy the full range of reading matter that is available in our society.
Today, International Literacy Day, letís enjoy all the different types of reading we do, and spare a thought for those who can read but donít bother and those who canít but would love to.
Australian readers will be glad to hear that the new Aussie Bible is getting some publicity over here. Its attempt to put the Bible stories into íStrine has caused some amusement. For English readers, your argot (if thatís not too rude a description of your slang) confuses rather than clarifies what the Bible says but though the words may be different, the meaning doesnít change.
Other attempts to update language to increase interest have been in the news recently. A Tourist Board in East London has decided for marketing purposes to call the East End, together with areas south of the river such as Greenwich, East Side. This will apparently make it appeal to American visitors. Nothing will be actually be different, just what itís called.
Christians are about to celebrate Pentecost, a day when Godís Spirit filled the disciples and everybody who heard them describe their experience understood, even if they spoke a different language.
Margaret Reynolds, speaking on the radio last week about the Greek poet Sapho, expressed her amazement that two and a half millennia later, her description of what it is like to be in love rang exactly true.
Much is changing in our society, and often very fast. Let us be grateful today for those abiding truths about being human, those basic realities of human life and experiences of God which do not change, and which, however the description of them may vary, link us with our fellow human beings across cultures and down the centuries.
"It's like they were living in Hell," says Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney. "These children ranged from two to seven years old, working for 17 or 18 hours a day! If they were a little bit lazy or tried to sleep, they gave them electric shocks. They were not getting any good food, just three biscuits a day so that they could not gain weight. One cannot imagine their miseries and agonies."
There were about 3,000 such child slaves in the United Arab Emirates working as camel jockeys. Of them, at least 2,000 were from Pakistan, while the rest were from Bangladesh, Sudan and Mauritius. But the government in UAE has now banned the practice and is returning the children to their home countries and hopefully to their parents.
The camel racing continues but the riders now are robots. Their movements are directed by remote control. The user is in a car, following the race, and can transmit their voice through a speaker in the robot. There are up to 25 camels in a race and, of course, an equal number of cars racing against each other. These robot jockeys are just as successful. During the trial races last month, one of them matched the fastest time set by a human rider.
Perhaps today, the United Nations International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery and its Abolition, we might be grateful for times when technology is put to such good use and that some things do get better in our troubled world.