There was a story told in my philosophy class, of an ancient man, who, while he was young, found a big, golden ring on the street. He picked it up, sold it, and lived well for a little while. Starting the day he found the ring, he always, for as long as he lived, walked with his gaze to the ground, looking for more gold. He became hunchbacked, and lived to be very old, but when he died, he realized: because he never looked at the world, he had missed all the beauty of it. The sun in the sky, the birds, the spring blooms, and yellow leaves in the fall, the beautiful woman who passed him by and could have been his wife, the stray puppy who could have been his good friend.
He never did find another ring. He died poor, lonely, and never knew the beauty of life.
I keep thinking about this man watching the world around me “evolve” (read: regress) into this techy age. More and more people keep their head buried into their Iphones, Ipod touches, blackberries, hand held devices … what have you. A computer device used to be a privilege, a gift, a treat at the end of the day, where you caught up with the world. Now, it’s the extra pair of eyes and ears that are attached to humans. It’s a given. It’s expected. It’s a taken for granted.
And in the process, I watch humanity dehumanizing. They become just as much the machines they are hand holding! It doesn’t matter whether they cross a parking lot, they drive a car, they watch a movie, they “talk” to a group of friends, the world is tuned out, because they need to keep up with the latest Facebook update about someone’s breast milk tasting funny today!
The most crass example of such de-humanizing, I think, came to me while going to Salt Lake City for a show, this past weekend. We were there to spend 90 minutes with the chef and author Anthony Bourdain in a half stand up – half “Artist’s Studio” type of evening . It was a good show. Not a great show, but a good one.
We had tickets in the third tier, which meant … way up high. Those were cheaper, but they also allowed me to see the whole concert hall. Looking down, at the main floor, while the show was going on and the lights were dimmed, you saw a field of bright, lit screens everywhere on the main floor. Every tenth person or so, just looking at their cell phone screen. Texting. Surfing. Emailing. Who knows?!
And this is while the guest was actually talking on the stage. It was not a boring show. Bourdain has a very vivacious, colorful, extremely visual way of speaking. He’s a great story teller and he had lots of stories to tell! You had to tune in to keep up with each story. And people were completely, and deliberately ignoring his speech. I was floored! Pun unintended!
Why do people bother to pay $70 tickets to a show, if all they do is tune it out to “watch” Facebook, The World Cup, or whatever else?! Why have people have become so darned self absorbed and rude to completely ignore the huge notices hung in the concert halls that kindly ask them to turn off their freaking cell?! Why are they so selfish as to not care about the beeper going off every ten seconds, as they get another IM update, bothering everyone around them?
My parents always told me: if you bother to pay for a show, that means you found it interesting enough to make it worth your buck! If so, respect the people traveling from long distances, who are standing in front of you working and trying to entertain you during the time you’re there! You don’t have to stay, if you hate it. But be polite and leave! Don’t blatantly ignore the people who are doing their jobs and don’t blatantly bully your seat neighbor!
It was a sad, sad scene for my eyes. We see people being replaced by machines all day long. We have 24 hour ATMs and coke machines, 24 hour gas stations with no one there. You can even mail a package at the post office without ever seeing a human being. Even buy your ProActiv supply at the mall, from a vending machine!
But, do we have to become machines?! Do we single-handedly have to cause ourselves to get A.D.D. and Alzheimer’s when we’re 40?! Do we have to consciously tune out the world in order to chase trifles?! Because no one is going to invent the next cure for cancer while surfing the Iphone, I can guarantee you that much! It’s trifles! No substance. At all!
I guarantee you that whatever all those people were after on their phones during the show would still have been there long hours after the show was over! If something was that life-and-death (really, really doubtful, considering the amount of people “cell-ing”), then you should not have been there – you should have been where life or death needed you!
But the show in front of your eyes, the one you paid $70 for a front row for … will be gone in 90 minutes! Never to be seen again! Unless one of those bozos in the audience bootlegged it and put it on youtube – in today’s world, that would be highly possible! But say they didn’t: you want to waste a lifetime (maybe) opportunity on 10 seconds of stupid “pleasure”?! Honestly?! Has the world come down to this lowest, below the ground level of easy entertainment?! Do I still call myself “human” like the rest of them?! Really?!
Images from Idiocracy, the Mike Judge movie, flashed through my head. We’ll be a world of nothing but gadgets and no brain usage. Facile entertainment and tuning out. No, I won’t cancel my Facebook account. Nor sell my cell phone. But I will try to keep a smidgen of humanity and common sense in me, and use them when it’s appropriate, while trying to remember what my parents taught me before I ever went to school: when someone is talking to/ at you, pay attention!
Plus, I don’t want to be that old person when I die, lonely and completely empty, devoid of what the world had to offer me! When my followers will ask me on my death bed what I have seen in life, I don’t want a loopy-loop Facebook scrolling screen to go in front of my eyes, while I mumble “not much”.