Almost Like Not Being There
BY C. L. BOTHWELL III
What is it that we are doing, exactly? Or, more to the point, what is it that we aren't?
We bend every effort to not be here. I turn on the radio or pop a CD in the stereo or slip a VCR into the player, and tune in to somewhere else. When I listen to the radio at home, I am at least partly not home. I am in Washington listening to news reports from around the globe, or sitting in a recording studio listening to professional musicians.
With the TV or the computer in my face I am even less home and yet I am, strangely, not in the other place either. I am a disembodied witness to otherness.
Sometimes we wear headsets while we work or walk or jog. So the woman running down the sidewalk is actually partly at a Sting concert, or studying French.
We seem to drive around a lot, you and I, and while that offers every appearance of going somewhere, it really is a stationary experience.
When I am in my car I am surrounded by my-car-ness. It is the same space whether my car is here on the mountain or down by the ocean or somewhere in the middle of the continent. If I drive around in my car I am in a cocoon of my own device which prevents me from being anywhere different at all.
Then I turn on the radio and I am not even entirely in my car. If I am listening to the news from Washington I could be at home in my driveway in my car, or in my house, or in someone else's house for that matter, but still mostly be in that news room.
Now comes the Ford Motor Company prototype vehicle with the very original name, 24/7. This is not so much a car as a computer on wheels: cell phone, beeper, internet access, TV, DVD, stock ticker, fuel gauge, warning lights and presumably speedometer, are all seamlessly woven into the computer display which substitutes for a dashboard. It is all voice-activated, and the display can be reconfigured to suit the driver with either Mac or PC desktops available. (Doubtless the PC version comes complete with solitaire.)
Now the driver cannot be where he isn't, lifted up and away from the notness that is driving, into the notbeingness that is cyberspace.
When I stop my car to get a bite to eat, I go into a fast food restaurant exactly like every other restaurant in the chain and purchase prepro-grammed food (a quick byte?).
I could be in the Taco Bell at home or in Seattle. The Muzak is the same, too. Easy Listening songs to help me not experience the Taco Bellness, because presto! I am not there! I am in a studio listening to professional musicians while I eat my digitized burrito, which is very similar to food in some ways.
The bumper sticker on the car ahead says, "I'd rather be skiing." But it appears that the driver would rather be on the phone. I see a cell phone stuck to his head, as he gestures with his other hand, which seems to be holding a McSandwich (scary!).
He is driving his-car-ness so he isn't really here, on this mountain road talking to someone somewhere else, eating something foodlike.
I can't help but wonder if the other person is also in a car, not being wherever she isn't. Does she have unfood in her free hand too? Do they both have their radios on? Are they discussing software upgrades or upgrade downloads?
Fortunately all of this driving and fast food, and even telecommunication, saves us time to do the things we really wanted to do.
Which were ?
There must be some reason we are here, something that needs to be done. We are the only part of the local universe which might have the ability to understand itself, to deeply savor the play and come to know the playright.
Yet we seek evasion; either an escape from this time and place to somewhere and somewhen else, or a shortcut that scoots us past the depth of experience.
"Footprints in the sands of time?" Nope. Nobody's walking, and the silicon has apparently all been made into chips.
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