Monday, June 04, 2007

Death by ignorance.

I saw a cyclist escape death today, even though he didn’t deserve to.

Face all a-smile, head nodding, he shot straight out of a side road into the path of a car. Oblivious to the horns and shouts, he continued on his merry way with Death pedalling close behind.

From each of his ears there dangled a thin white wire. No doubt engrossed in the power output of a tiny, battery-operated music centre at his waist, he heard nothing of the world around him. Motorists can be fined for talking on a mobile phone while driving, but apparently it’s just fine and dandy to ride a bicycle while distracted and deafened by an MP3 player. When this cyclist finally dies, the motorist that flattens him will get the blame.

I can’t understand why people want to eradicate one of their senses to this extent. Riding buses, I see people plug these devices into their ears for the half-hour duration of the ride. I see people walking along the street wearing them – I also see people walking the street while talking on the phone, which is just as baffling.

I have a mobile phone (cell phone, for the Americans) but it’s not for casual conversation. It’s for those times when you have to phone someone and there’s not one to be found. Since everyone is assumed to own one of these things, public call boxes have dwindled to the point were they should be listed as an endangered species.

I also have an MP3 player, but mostly I use it for its digital recording facility. I have been known to put a song or two on there, a little Captain Beefheart or AFT, but rarely use it to listen. Music sounds better through real speakers and doesn’t obliterate all other sounds when heard that way.

Currently it’s not specifically illegal to drive while wearing one of these headsets, although the general ‘driving without due care and attention’ should cover it. If I’m driving, I need all my senses clear. The UK is a small island with a lot of cars, most of which are under the control of idiots.

I ride the bus often: as long as I’m going somewhere with a bus route, it costs the same as taking the car and I don’t have to park the thing when I arrive. On those trips, I like to see the world go by. I see things I can’t look at while driving, but with my attention freed from the road ahead I can spend the time observing. And thinking. Filling my ears with music would put a stop to that. Besides, listening to music all the time would get boring.

Is that why people do it? Are they so devoid of thinking capability that they have to use phones and music to occupy their minds? Are they so idle now that thinking is just too much trouble?

Or is it a fear of life?

Sensory deprivation used to be a form of torture. It won’t work on these people. They like it. Catching a glimpse of the real world terrifies them. On the bus, they spend the entire trip staring at the back of the seat they’re facing. All the world’s sounds are removed by their MP3’s and phones. What will this lead to? A device that covers your eyes and ears so you can watch a movie while travelling, so none of the real-world nastiness can sneak in?

Something like this, perhaps?

Yes, oblivion is only a credit card away. Shame about all that nature stuff. I wonder if there’s anyone left who can tell an oak from a birch?

If you can, write it down. It’s dying knowledge.


tom sheepandgoats said...

I'm with you on cell....sorry, mobile phones. Mine is always off and is only for the occasional outgoing call when I'm on the road.

I can't imagine why people want to be connected at all times. You can hear them on their phones in the supermarket aisle.

"yeah....uh huh....well, I'm in the frozen foods aisle I'm in paper supplies..."

For crying out loud, throw the cell phone in the coffee grinder!

Romulus Crowe said...

I had a call on my cell phone today, because I'd forgotten to switch it off. The first thing they always ask is where you are.

I was in the middle of a graveyard, sitting on the slab covering an 18th-century customs official, eating a Parma ham sandwich and drinking a double-espresso from a paper cup. Nobody ever believes that, but it was true. It often is, although the customs official was a new lunch spot.

I hate having phone conversations in public places. I get odd looks when I talk about my work in the open air.

Fortunately my battery ran out. There must be a way to fake that.

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