love you girlfriend but you’re not that entertaining

Yesterday on the subway I see two young women, both in their twenties, sitting near each other but not right beside one another, and since one speaks to the other now and then, I assume they’re together.  Funny thing is, each is listening to an i-pod.  And I get to thinking, is this a new version of “comfortable silence?”

Of course not; listening to an i-pod isn’t silent at all.  It’s not like I hadn’t seen this before.  Teenagers do it all the time.  But for teenagers, the i-pod is a fashion accessory, and it’s often cranked so loud it’s clear that the type of music being played further personalizes the fashion.  Annoyingly, one can usually only hear bits of base line or repetitive riff, or worse – you do recognise the music and it’s NEVER music you like.  But I digress. 

Sometimes teenagers will share the i-pod – each wearing one earphone from the same set, and I get that – that’s a shared experience.  But these gals weren’t teenagers and they weren’t sharing anything beyond an occasional comment.  It seemed they were both actively listening, because when they occasionally spoke to one another, each would take out one earphone and then put it back.  And then they got laughing at some private joke, every minute or so breaking into suppressed chortling but each still listening to her own personal music.

Sure I get why people wear i-pods while commuting.  Sometimes the sounds on the transit system are something I’d very much love to escape from.  Like Warbly Talky-Louderson, several times featured in annoyed 140 character rants on my Twitter page.  But then again, to try and drown HER out with an i-pod would surely cause damage to one’s eardrums.  I find transit experiences noisy in general and never really get any enjoyment from my i-pod because there are too many other noises that spoil the music.  It’s like too much information coming from too many places.

Last year I wrote about a former colleague of mine who couldn’t believe that I would actually go for a walk without my i-pod – what pleasure could I possibly get in a walk without some kind of portable entertainment?  Sometimes I wear it – it's fun to walk to a beat.  But more often I don't, and the pleasure isn't diminished by my having to just think.  

Another time I was on a GO bus coming home from Hamilton and we were stuck in traffic for what was probably less than an hour because of some highway incident and one guy at the back of the bus was simply going squirrelly with boredom.  At one point he hollers out, “DOES ANYONE HAVE A BLACKBERRY I CAN PLAY WITH?”  I almost handed him my notebook and a pencil like my mother used to do to when I was a little girl getting restless in church.

I know I’m a daydreaming sort, but I can sit on a bus (or my sofa, or my bed, or a park bench or a bicycle…) and get pleasure from just looking around me and thinking.  And sure, I’m a writer and I purposefully try to notice things going on around me.  Like lots of subway riders I often read books and let my imagination do the entertaining. 

And therein lies the rub.  This growing need to be entertained and distracted in every waking moment can’t be good for the imagination.  Because I think that if the human imagination begins to diminish as the generations turn over – that would be a real tragedy.

"Our world is not the same as Othello's world. You can't make flivvers without steel-and you can't make tragedies without social instability. The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get."
~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


  1. Reply
    willow June 17, 2010

    Don’t get me wrong, I love music, but I do my best pondering in delicious silence.

  2. Reply
    Jennifer June 17, 2010

    I love music too. But I also love silence.

  3. Reply
    Cathy June 17, 2010

    I sat with a colleague recently on a short plane ride, and in the space of about 20 mins, he read part of the *online* NY Times, played an ipod game, watched about 5 mins of a movie, and started to watch an episode of a TV series..and played some music. Was so fidgety. Eventually he fell asleep. I looked out the window. We were low enough to see the fields and towns go by. Pretty sure I was more rested at the end…

  4. Reply
    Jennifer June 17, 2010

    You know sis, there was going to be a mention of the restfulness aspect of thinking in this. I’m glad you brought it up. Most often when I go for a walk on my lunch, it’s to rest. xo

  5. Reply
    reluctant blogger June 18, 2010

    Oh yes, we are alike there.
    I always run with my iPod plugged in because otherwise I am too slow and the beat gets me going.
    But I almost never walk with it. I walk 4 miles a day and it is wonderful thinking time. Sometimes i have no idea what I’ve been thinking about but that doesn’t matter.
    And I always carry my notebook. If we are on a train or something the boys always ask me to get it out and we write those stories where everyone writes a sentence and have a big giggle. But yeah, my boys are more often than not glued to a DS or iTouch. Shame.

  6. Reply
    Jennifer June 18, 2010

    RB I am into the meditative aspect of walking, and to me, it’s sort of about being at one with your surroundings. Love those group-written stories! I don’t carry a notebook when I go for lunchtime walks, and I should, because more than one idea has evaporated off into the noosphere! Maybe that’s as it should be…

  7. Reply
    Susannah June 18, 2010

    Yes, I like silence, although it is never silent anyway! there are always the sounds that root you in the time and the place you are in, bird song, traffic noise, the sound of my feet on the pavement. I find I need all my senses to actually ‘be there’ in the moment, having that experience, otherwise I am split, my attention fractured.
    We are so used to being bombarded with external stimulation and entertainment that there are people who find silence and stillness frightening! So much attention is occupied and focused outwardly that non-doing is an alien place!
    I do agree that there are times that listening to an I-pod would be preferable than listening to some things 😉 putting your own soundtrack to something not particularly pleasant would probably help!

  8. Reply
    Jennifer June 19, 2010

    So true Susannah, it’s never really silent. And the sounds do root you! I’ve learned to appreciate those sounds. 🙂

  9. Reply
    Selma June 19, 2010

    I love zoning out and freeforming in the silence. I find that it revives me. I couldn’t stand being inundated with gadgets and noise all the time. A lot of people aren’t able to switch off. I think that is a shame.

  10. Reply
    Jennifer June 19, 2010

    Yes, there is something so restful about being alone with oneself.

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