The World is Too Much With Us
The gas station down at the corner has high-tech pumps that include built-in television screens. The picture comes alive as soon as you start pumping the octane into the tank. I guess the gasoline company is afraid we might feel out-of-touch during the three or four minutes it takes the gallons to add up to dollars. With nozzle in hand, you can keep up with national weather, rising floodwaters, raging fires, Dow Jones averages, sports scores, and the latest news about the rising cost of gasoline.
Have you noticed that the world seems to think that everyone must be informed, entertained, and otherwise amused all the time? I know we are in the information age, but enough is enough. It’s hard to be alone with your own thoughts anymore.
Perhaps it started with background music. Someone decided a few decades ago that no public place should be without wall-to-wall music. Studies indicated that customers and employees were happier and more content when “Two for Tea” and “April Love” were lightly lilting in the background. Even elevators were not immune. The ride from the first to the tenth floor was more enjoyable, it was thought, if Lawrence Welk rode along.
These days, we are fortunate if it’s Mr. Welk in the background. On some occasions I have fled from the aisles of a store, attempting to escape the thump and wail of tunes obviously chosen by the teenagers who collect carts in the parking lot.
It’s not just music now. The whole world has become a Times Square of media messages, flashing, blinking, scrolling, and screaming at us for attention. If we attend a sports event, we keep one eye on the game in front of us and the other on the electronic signboard above our heads. Its mission is to make sure we know the running scores of all other games occurring at the same time.
As we watch our favorite television shows, frequent news briefs guarantee that nothing will happen in the world without our knowledge. Sometimes a “crawler” at the bottom of the screen gives us a running account of the latest events, confounding those of us who have one-track minds.
Television sets are everywhere. They’re in waiting rooms, airports, bus stations, barber shops, and just about anywhere else that people have more than 60 seconds on their hands. Some homes keep a television set on nearly 24 hours a day, blaring away as family members walked right past it. Non-stop television has replaced background music in these situations.
A refreshing walk or jog is a good time to commune with nature, but many people evade the quietude by strapping earphones onto their heads. It must be a bit difficult to enjoy the chirping of birds and the rustle of trees with FM radio injected straight into your brain.
Beepers beep and cell phones twitter all over town as people seemingly can‘t stand being out of touch, even for a three-minute dash into the convenience store. No news, big or small, seems to be able to wait anymore.
“What’s happening?” is truly the question of the age.
A wise man once told me that he enjoyed living alone. He said he was “good company” for himself. He seemed quite happy and content with his world, “unplugged” as it was. I am afraid he is among a growing minority. Too many of us are addicted to diversion. We are “wired” 24 hours a day, tethered to beepers, cell phones, voice mail, electronic mailboxes, and Internet connections. The communications revolution has taken a lot of hostages.
“The world is too much with us,” Wordsworth wrote in 1807. Wonder what he would say now?