Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Voice Crying In the Wilderness Dept.

     Some people don’t care for Gavin McInnes. He’s something of a hero to me, and the following video is part of the reason:

     Full Disclosure: I own a cellphone. The C.S.O. insists that I carry it, in case of a road emergency. It’s a technological dinosaur: it makes and takes calls, and does nothing else. And I keep it turned off.

     In honor of McInnes’s video above (and because I still hurt too much to type a lot), please enjoy the following, which first appeared at Eternity Road.

The Ghosts Among Us

     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.

     This nuevo olvido seems to have a powerful hold. Your Curmudgeon has seen conversations on which hung millions of dollars suspended without warning, so that one of the participants could answer his cell phone. He was on it for quite a while. It was his wife. No, your Curmudgeon will not relate the part of the conversation he chanced to overhear.

     In truth, the musically addicted are the more annoying. We all have some trouble refraining from answering a ringing phone. It gets even harder when we know the call is for us. But what could more effectively denigrate Smith, who wants or needs Jones's attention, than Jones's reluctance -- sometimes his outright refusal -- to remove his iPod headphones? In an office environment, where matters of some moment are the regular order of business?

     (That such persons can seldom be deterred, when the headphones are off, from raving about their iPods as if they were the solution to world hunger is yet another reason to despise them. As if your Curmudgeon needed one.)

     A few other pundits have commented about this new mass phenomenon of "absent presence," where the body is here but the mind is demonstrably not. No one has looked upon it with unalloyed approval. Yet no one has yet analyzed the forces that drive the nuevo olvido wave.

     Is it a bad thing? We'll get to that.

     The world is a noisy place. In some parts, it screams at us continually. Atop that, it manifests a multitude of inconveniences upon us at every turn. Ever since the first parties of hunter-gatherers essayed forth after the bison herds, men have sought a way to communicate with others at some remove, whether to announce the evening's entree or to summon first aid. The incentives to develop and deploy portable communicators and portable entertainment are venerable and strong.

     But that which is useful or comforting is nearly always capable of being perverted. The portable music source becomes a shield, not merely against ambient noise, but against the importunings of others who need one's attention. The cell phone, purchased to provide an unfailing link to home, or a lifeline to a taxi or tow truck at need, becomes a collar and leash, by which persons at a distance can yank one away from attending to one's immediate surroundings and concerns. These devices don't come pre-equipped with the disciplines required to use them wisely and well.

     Time was, it was widely regarded as rude, a near-to-mortal insult, to deny one's attention to one's immediate companion in preference for some less proximate focus. Duels were fought over less. But our century's experiences with the telephone have dulled that response, even under conditions where the insult was matched by a prospect of great financial loss. Your Curmudgeon will not soon forget the salesman who spent twenty minutes reading spec sheets to a distant caller in preference to attending to your Curmudgeon and the C.S.O., who had made ready to place a $5000 order for a granite countertop with him...up to the moment he answered the phone. Few Americans have not had a similar encounter.

     Technology alone cannot be blamed for the deterioration of general courtesy. There are other factors at work. But the result is what counts, and it is bad, bad, bad.

     Your Curmudgeon carried a cell phone for three years. Today he has none, by choice. He seldom turned it on; were he to do so, it might ring while he was attending to something important, or conversing with someone actually present, or making one of his trademarked puns. That always struck him as the worst of all possible worlds, even if he could bring himself to ignore the ring. People actually get offended when one declines to answer his cell phone, and the ring pattern is easily interpreted to tell who's ignoring the ring and who's merely turned the infernal thing off. If he must give offense, your Curmudgeon prefers to do so actively.

     Your Curmudgeon was also an "early adopter" of "walkman" technology. It took him a while to decode the message he was giving, all unknowing, to his colleagues and friends.

     Today, a casual stroll down any public street will bring innumerably absent-present folks into view. Why are they where they are, when it's so clear that they'd rather be somewhere else? Are they merely expressing their bitterness at their displacement according to the most socially acceptable fashion, or are they salving some existential pain better left undisclosed?

     Be here. Now.


Dystopic said...

If you've read the book "Victoria" (on Castalia House's site), the author speaks of deliberately regressing certain kinds of technology. Namely, computers, cell phones, and certain kinds of transportation.

I remember being almost angry as I read this. Why would we do that? Is technology not always the way forward? But I came to understand the author's points over time.

Progressives like to view all of human existence as a sort of single path, a climb ever-higher, to greater Progress. It is their God. Some day, when future archaeologists dig up the remains of our civilization, they will consider Progress to be a deity, worshiped by many over the "lesser" God of the Abraham.

But progress is not linear, something the Left forgot (if, indeed, they ever understood in the first place). And technology can take us backward as well as forward. It can isolate people as well as connect them.

I don't agree entirely with the author's point in Victoria. But I do think that communication of this nature can divide as much as it unites.

I would never have known you, were it not for the Internet and the blogosphere. I would count that as an exceptional loss, good sir. At the same time, the phone must go into the pocket at some point. The computer must be shut down, and reality must be experienced.

Consider me one who will not get rid of his phone, but endeavors only to pull it out of my pocket for a specific, conscious purpose, and never at the expense of reality.

Sometimes, I think this is partly how we got to this point in the first place. The virtual world supplanted the real one instead of merely supplementing it. People lost touch with reality, and eventually, their own sanity.

Brinster said...

I don't do facebook or twitter, and I don't have my nose glued to my iPhone. I do, however, spend a lot of time on the 'net. The reason for that is gaining knowledge, and your blog, Francis, has enriched me.

That said, I no longer leave the house without my 9mm handgun. After San Bernadino, I'm carrying a spare magazine. As a matter of fact, I might go buy another spare magazine later today.

Get well. We need you.