Monday, November 2, 2015

A Terror That Will Not Abate

     I must speak of this before it drives me mad.

     Relax, relax; you’re not about to read a Long Island, NY 2015 version of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It’s of those things that’s everywhere, that’s making Americans “nowhere men.”

     Look at the pictures here. Stare at them. Study them. Then tell me I’m wrong.

     There are many influences that act to separate us. Most such are sociological or institutional. But some we inflict on ourselves. The photos at the above-linked site are an illustration of one such.

     I dislike cell phones generally. I have one – my wife insisted, just in case I have a need when far from home – but I’ve turned it on about a dozen times in the past four years. All it can do is make and accept calls. I’ll only make a call with it under conditions of urgent necessity. I never accept calls on it.

     Everyone else I know has a “smart phone.” You know, the sort that substitutes for an Internet-enabled computer. And the great majority of everyone never, ever lets the BLEEP!ing things out of their hands.

     The “smart phone” is progressively rendering Americans numb to their surroundings. My wife – my own wife, whom I love and cherish! – is becoming impossible to talk to, because I can’t get her eyes off the damned thing. She’ll sit down in front of the television, turn on some show she supposedly wants to see, and immediately thereafter becomes engrossed in some game on her phone. An hour will pass...two hours...sometimes three or four hours...and she’ll fall asleep with her phone clutched in her hand, not having said a word nor paid the slightest attention to anything other than its screen.

     If there’s a Hell, and I’m quite sure there is, I imagine that every new admittee will be given a smart phone...and condemned to stare at it for all eternity.

     At Eternity Road of loving memory, I wrote about the phenomenon of “absent presence:”

     They're everywhere.

People, or apparitions that resemble people, who upon close inspection prove not to be there. Oh, they look present enough, and they sound present enough, and should you dare to touch one, you'd find that they feel present enough as well, but for all practical purposes they're somewhere else entirely.

Where are they really? Well, that depends on what's coming through their headphones.

Some are silent and glazed of eye as they walk the city streets or the office corridors. The devices connected to their headphones usually bear the sigil of Apple Corporation. You wouldn't want to hear what's streaming into their ears. Trust your Curmudgeon.

Others carry themselves with an unusual alertness, if not 5% more. They don't merely listen; they talk as well. But it soon becomes clear that they're addressing no one in the vicinity. Their headphones are connected to compact silvery devices with keypads and backlit screens. No, you wouldn't want to hear what they're listening to, either.

Behold the New Oblivion: the technologically enabled separation from the world that has come to displace the meditations of the monk and the maunderings of the mundane. Wherever these folks may be physically, mentally they've contrived to absent themselves from our common ruck.

     I wrote that in June, 2005. Owing to the proliferation of smart phones, it’s orders of magnitude worse today.

     We are becoming a nation of ghosts: persons whose bodies are wholly separated from their minds and souls. This isn’t a good thing, I assure you most sincerely. But there seems to be no stopping it. Indeed, suggesting that a traveling companion turn off his iPod or put away his phone so that a conversation can commence is now considered rude. Not that long ago, it was exactly the other way around.

     A friend of mine told me about a woman he dated – a “blind date” – who never put down her phone throughout their dinner at an expensive restaurant that she selected. He paid the check and left her sitting there. I asked if she noticed his departure. He wasn’t sure.

     Would anyone care to try to justify that?

     There’s a lot that’s wrong with America and the world generally. Much of it stems from an increasingly prevalent detachment from one’s surroundings. Not all of that can be laid at the feet of the smart phone, but some of it surely can.

     Even if we were to acquit smart phones of all the graver charges, there’s still this one: Life abounds around you. Is it really preferable to isolate yourself from it in favor of the trivial stimuli available from a five-inch screen?

     I walk among others who do not see me. Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether they know where they are. Sometimes I’m certain of it, as with the fellow who answered his phone at Mass a few days ago. It took all the self-restraint I possess not to rip the damned thing from his grip and crush it underfoot. I’m not sure it would have been wrong to do so.

     This must stop, and soon, before our atomization, our descent into digitally enabled solipsism, becomes irrevocable.

     Be here. Now!


JC said...

There's a new explosion of "widow's hump" being diagnosed due to smartphones. Heaven forfend that one should look up when, say, crossing the street or something.

Manu said...

Not going to lie, good sir. I read this on my phone. I don't know what that means for me, except that perhaps a little more awareness of how much of my time is spent using it might do me some good.

Robohobo said...

"Be Here Now"

Richard Alpert

He was not wrong.

Anonymous said...

I recently had my computer worked on by my IT guy. We're chatting and he pulls out his phone and starts showing me a bunch of photos he's taken. I saw a very pretty one of a landscape and told him so-he asked if I'd like him to send it to my phone. I told my phone has a 2 inch square screen & pulled out my flip phone to show him and he said, "what do you do on that?" I said I make and receive calls.

He had a look on his face like a dog that heard something beyond the range of hearing that people have.

Malatrope said...

These people are simply in the early stages of settling down inside a pod full of goo, ala The Matrix. What? You didn't think an outside agency made them turn themselves into batteries, did you?

Unknown said...

'Smart' phones are the link to the Borg. Smart phone uses have been assimilated (when they are not walking into moving trains/buses). It makes me sad to knowledge that Western Civ will die with the post war generation. I guess we did not our fiduciary duty to posterior generations or our antecedents who delivered to us such as rich world.