Two of us sat in the doctor’s waiting room bathed in the unbearable noise of Good Morning America. The other person was a patient; she soon escaped. My wife was with the doctor; I was doomed.
The volume, like some pernicious living thing, was so loud that it crowded out the ability to focus away from the big screen. It hung above the patient’s entrance next to the admission’s cubicle. Appalling, giggling individuals appeared in stammering images of head shots, whole tribal shots of neon chairs and slim, small human beings arranged in a weak half-moon configuration. They moved in pairs to a table to stare at dishes of neon-lit food and giggled some more, or one by one they appeared in a chair opposite another person and their faces suddenly produced ‘seriousness’; one by one they leaned over toward the ‘guest’, head shots and reaction shots telling us that they all were nice, they were natural, they all were just as the designers of their show imagined ‘us’ to be. Commercials flew out upon the volume in-between the show’s tiny two or three minute segments: beautiful cars sped silently down empty city avenues in early morning light with pairs of models smiling through ruffled hair. A camera suspended a foot above an uncovered mattress glided lovingly over its contours as if we should all be so lucky as to find rest on its white meadows.
Screens are everywhere now – out-of-doors at gas pumps, in waiting rooms at car dealerships and dentists’ offices, even in a newly opened bakery and coffee shop. They wait for us at home, at work, in classrooms where students, imagining screens, surreptitiously blind-text under their desks. They await us in lines at grocery stores, and at the entrance to the main concourse of the local library whose first 40 feet are filled with computers and rows of DVD’s. We carry them with us, live and streaming. I’ve watched individuals do the video-text-Facebook stutter step across parking lots, face to the screen, hesitate, stop, text, look, walk, stop, never lifting their eyes. Sometimes I see us en masse staring down, carrying faces as vacant as clean plates, smiling upon command, frowning upon command.
We have always wanted to know that out of our sight someone is thinking of us. We used to write letters and await the mail for the treasured responses. My parents’ generation taped photos into albums and gave them to their children. Now the desire to be always, continuously connected to the pulsing waves of greetings, buzz, gossip, alerts, photos, vids, and Facebook ‘likes’ appears insatiable. We text in movies, watching TV, speaking on the phone. We inhale clips, bits, minutia, scraps, spots, rarely whole pieces of information. There’s too much. It buries us and frantically we rev up more portals so that we can open the flood-gates wider. We are in the process of becoming psychologically rewired to artificial sensation, to electricity injected directly into our visual cortex.
I am guilty of too much time with screens. My smart phone goes with me most places. I open it when I should be watching the world out there or perhaps just being quiet and allowing for the “hum of thoughts evaded in the mind”* to take form, beguile me and lead me someplace new. I hunch over the keyboard on my computer, goggle-eyed, two-fingering the keys like some aging praying mantis.
What are the losses in living like this? Silence, solitude, aloneness, clarity of thought, the capacity to quietly evolve over time instead of being harried by a tyrannical present, the self-unmerged with the collective hum of the technological swarm. What are the antidotes to these losses? Ride a horse, build a table, hunt deer, write a play, fix a machine, paint, do anything that requires us to activate our inner sight, our contemplative vistas, our vast inner lives. Find ways to close the terminal, stagger away from the noise, act alone and in silence. Find ways to cut off the demands of incessant interruptions. Sit in the warming spring air and watch the light.