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