Msnowe's Blog

On the self-inclusive property

Posted in 66%, electronic device, imagination, isolationism by m.snowe on March 3, 2008

66% from a straw poll of random less-than-forty-year-old walkers on the streets of NYC. That’s the percentage of younger people using some sort of electronic isolating device (e.x. mobile phone, ipod, blackberry, etc.). [The poll percentage was graciously bestowed by the author of nevermore of peace].

So what does this mean?, you might ask, as you haphazardly pop in your earbuds? Can we refer you to the oft used and abused quote: No man [though possibly a woman] is an island? (my brackets). This statement, though bandied about like an old jock strap in the high school locker room, still provides a worthy perspective: we cannot, artificially or otherwise, create a completely isolated existence — and for our own good. First, the most obvious point of being oblivious is that we will inherently find ourselves acted upon by those around us, and the situations therein. In simpler terms: we can ignore the car speeding down the road towards us all we want as we text message LOL, but that car will hit us whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s as if we’ve devolved into believing that if we cover our eyes, we are simply invisible. A five year old child knows better. Isolation has it’s positives, but like most things (such as ice-cream, your uncle bob, and movies with Sean Connery) it’s best in moderation, or small, effective doses. And the funny part of this survey is that it took place in NYC — a city simultaneously filled with situations and aspects that seek to involve the streetwalker, while the streetwalker’s resistance to pay it any attention is fiercely enforced by what seems a concerted effort by all to use electronic devices.

The parallel world of the ipod and the mobile phone, the iphone and the blackberry is not so cut-and-dry isolationist. At one end of this ever-shaded spectrum, is the idea that when you use these devices, you are utterly and completely alone — even talking on your phone is a exercise in communication through wavelengths and frequencies which are inadequate and pale in the face of, well, face-to-face conversation. Yet the other side of the argument would tell you that using these devices keeps you more connected than ever; you can listen to podcasts on news items, chat with friends, browse the internet–you name it. However, all these maneuvers don’t actually give you direct awareness; they only lead you towards other forms of distraction from the world around you: websites, internal conversations, etc. The problem is inherent in the displacement. You are never just in the moment, but in it while simultaneously somewhere else. Who knew that we have, in effect, already mastered the skill and technologies of time/space travel?

You could make the argument that people are by nature individuals, and because of that, we are really living, breathing Ipods that run our own self-determined playlists. No one can know the true machinations that take place every second of every person’s life. And to some intents and purposes, this viewpoint is right. One can “zone out” fairly easily in the middle of traffic if they try (or don’t try) hard enough. But the key word here is “natural.” It is Natural for someone, who is preoccupied, to transplant themselves mentally into a thought so all-encompassing that they lose their sense of place and time. But when we use gizmos and gadgets all the time, we loose that sense of natural introspection. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the true cause of worry. If you’re even listening.

Obviously, forty or fifty years ago (and in most cases even less time ago), people didn’t have any of these devices at their fingertips and eardrums. They lived in a world that was determined completely by outside forces acting upon their senses. Some people wonder about different eras, and how we can never get back to that time, merely because of the change in habits and technology. But they are still imaginable. However, now it seems like that ability to imagine an earlier time is getting harder and harder, because our lives are being altered very quickly by how we observe, and what we chose to ignore. Imagination. It is powerful, and we are in a crisis of imagination, because of its severe lack and or reliance on anything but our own brain power. We are “trading up and outward”: eluding boredom with little devices to entertain, while ignoring own own god- (or nature-) given talent for story, observance, and imagination.

For instance: A trip in the subway. Usually, you put on your ipod or play on your phone and ignore those around you, and sometimes for good reason- you don’t want people to catch you staring at them. But it’s a free country, why not try and look around? Right before you, are dozens of people who you don’t know, and may never see again in your entire life. You only get one shot to see them. Ever. The middle-aged women staring down at her feet– fluffy blond hair, round cheeks, and a vacant expression, the Indian man holding the metal bar at the end of the row of seats–slicked back hair, dark eyes, cool gaze–all different people, with plans and stories and fears you know nothing about, and probably never will. So why not make it up? It’s human observation 101 and you’re the pupil, professor, and teacher’s aide. You get to set the curriculum and make the grades. A man refuses to give up his seat for the pregnant woman, students break out in Christmas carols, two women warble in a language so foreign you can’t tell which Continent it originates from: all these contribute to a greater sense of the world, and a better ability to understand the people around you, and the people you will never meet.

This argument excludes the observation of physical structures and nature, but they should also be taken into consideration as worthy aspects that shouldn’t be missed by phone call fog or an ipod haze. So do us a favor, and just once and a while, don’t forget there’s a world out there.


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One Response

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  1. Tyranaeus von Rheinhold said, on March 4, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Impressive article! My favorite part was your point about introspection and an interior, imaginative life of the mind. I’m glad that you made this point, because the danger of the techno-isolation goes beyond the death of community (was that still alive anyway?). Television has already made so many of our imaginative muscles flaccid, and so the ability to watch TV on one’s phone while far from home cannot help matters.
    I do appreciate how the Internet creates community in many cases, but most folks I know who spend a lot of time on it aren’t meeting new folks and engaging in new experiences but are rather thickening and cementing the wall between them and the world even further (video games, downloaded movies, IMs with the same three friends that they just spent the day with and will see again tomorrow, etc.). In fact, as the technology advances, the danger of narrow isolation only grows. When cell phones first gained popularity in the mid to late 90s, every use of it involved one person talking to another (because the state of technology allowed no other choice). Perhaps communication between folks even increased at that time. As laptops and phones take on the ability to present movies, TV, and more advanced video games, though, my guess is that the communication between humans will decline and that passive, entertainment-flooded isolation will rise.
    But I hate sounding like a Luddite, especially as I love all the technology and love being able to get primary results from my bed during a power outtage. As you point out in your article, the danger is not the toy but rather its immoderate use.


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