In Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day,” we meet the butler Stevens as he embarks on a road trip to meet a former employee of the formerly grand Darlington Hall. Along the way, we learn that Mr. Stevens’ relationship with the former employee may not be strictly professional…even if it cruelly avoids being personal. We also learn that Stevens may be experiencing a larger crisis of faith: did he misplace his faith in his former employer, Lord Darlington, and, if so, must he reweigh the dignity of his service against all else that he lost?
Stevens’ road trip through England represents Ishiguro’s challenge to the reader to examine their own trip through life, with the attendant successes and failures, joys and pains. What bedevils Stevens, ultimately, is not his misplaced faith in his employer, but, rather, that he abdicated the responsibility to define his life to someone else. It’s humility gone wrong, and it asks the reader to question how he or she may be abdicating that responsibility.
The dizzying pace of technological change and invasion, and our even more rapid integration of it, should give us pause. Our quiet moments are no longer quiet or solitary. We’ve solved the riddle of the long, boring grocery checkout line, but we may be answering the wrong questions. Technology and social media occupy our time, entertain us, even connect us, but is our faith, our time, our energy misplaced? Can we identify real, long-lasting gains to the value of our lives, or are most of us just more distracted?
The solution is not less technology or even less social media, for even if such solutions were possible, their absence still doesn’t require of us to identify and pursue those foundational, truly important aspects of our lives. Who and how will I love? What important work will I pursue? How will I cultivate my talents? Certainly technology and social media can assist us in these endeavors, but only when we live with intention.
Stevens has the remains of his days to define for himself dignity, value, and worth, but Ishiguro leaves unanswered whether Stevens has the capacity to do so. Luckily, Stevens’ mistakes can be a lesson for us all, and maybe, just maybe, we should post and tweet about it.