With a smirk I have to admit I’m beginning to become the Old Fart that I’ve spent my life despising. You know who I’m talking about; the guy/person who says stuff like, “I just don’t understand the things people do these days.”
Well, I don’t.
The other day I was doing my photography and in the midst of a particularly spectacular sunset (as if they’re not all!), in one of the most remote parts of the world, some people came into frame. No sweat. I like people. They tend to add to my pictures, like little speckles of energy that dance on the body of this big ol’ Mama.
And then, sitting down together side-by-side in perfect frame position for a shot of the sun enflaming the ocean just over their heads, they each shook a cell phone out of their respective pockets and dialed in to some moments somewhere else.
One of my life quests has been to learn to be more here, more present in each moment. As if to insult a lifetime of seeking, everywhere I go are people being THERE now! On the street, in their cars, in your driveway, next to you at the restaurant, coming out of the rest room, in the middle of a conversation even! Wherever you go, whatever you do you are surrounded by people whose bodies are in front of you, but their presence is elsewhere.
It’s not like this was new to me. Somehow, though, this one just felt like a brand new insult. Right at the place where you surrender your cares to the richness of the moment– one of the few places where you can actually share your solitude with another human being – lives the Intruder.
When this cell phone thing first started to leave the cities and get more rural I was living in an intentional community in Oregon. It was (a surprisingly eclectic group of) about 30 adults and 8 kids living on 87 acres and running conference and permaculture design centers along with hosting a personal growth workshop and publishing a magazine. We were known as a community that really seeks to work the interpersonal connection angle into the day-to-day (and formidable!) tasks of living as examples of sustainability.
As you may guess, although not on the radical “tree-sitter” side, even the former Navy Intelligence Officers in the community amongst us were clearly oriented toward a value system of relationship over action, presence over distance.
But then, in my fifth year there, more and more “guests” (people coming to a conference and spending the weekend living with us) were shaking out their cell phones and walking around (of course within the confines of “live” spots or whatever they’re called) the property — trails, creeks, meadows — chatting away with the ethers.
Every week we had a business meeting. In one such meeting, where we decide policy and such, barely thinking twice about it, I put a motion up for consensus on setting aside a specific area for people to use their cell phones.
Hell, there was precedent. Years ago the community did the same thing with cigarette smokers. There was one little spot on the property, near the conference center classrooms where one could go to smoke. The truth is, it was a dismal lean-to type shed with one lousy chair and an ugly, open coffee can for butts sitting on the concrete walk. If I had come to that community a smoker, I would have quit out of sheer embarrassment. Since the area was in full view of the paths leading to the center, it always looked quite zoo-ish, the only thing missing being Dunce caps for the less-than 1%ers.
It was my fervent hope that the community would feel that such sequestration would help individuals face themselves much more directly. Hopefully, which seemed to be true for smokers, eventually enough people would feel uncomfortable enough so that word would get out that of course we’re tolerant, but if you smoke or use a cell phone on this chunk of nature, you’re gonna feel like an idiot.
I figured it would be a slam-dunk to get this one through but Boy, was I wrong! No sooner had the words, “I’m sick of seeing the ugly little glowing Bastards everywhere I turn,” come out of my mouth than I noticed three or four hands out of a table of about 18 people reflexively going to some part of their clothing or anatomy to make sure they had their cell phones with them.
It reminded me of when I was a paramedic and walked into a tough-ass bar on the other side of the tracks when we — me and my partner being the only white guys around — would catch little metal glints of knives and guns getting made ready out of the corner of our eyes.
And these were my fellow communitarians. It was then I knew life as I’ve known it is over.
Back to the beach. My first thought was, “What the hell am I gonna do with this shot?” But then I realized, “Crap, they’re all like this!!”
I’ve taken so many Primo-shots of deeply touching Nature with people and cell phones in them that I may as well gear my whole portfolio toward spinning Marlboro Man images into Cellular Phone-promoting spreads and foldouts and brochures and whatevers and at least make some money off the damn photos I end up chucking because this unnatural thing is occurring.
And now, it’s exponentially getting worse because the cell phones take pictures.
On photographic projects on the beach, even as short a time ago as May (2005) I could work with sunset and shoot people celebrating it and not worry once about the result. Today (September) and in any shot with five or more people in it, one of them is pointing their phone either at their ear or at someone else. Some of my pictures look like the stand-off of multiple gunmen in one of (actually, many of!) Quentin Tarantino’s flicks.
How arrogant am I, though!
For being all of that balanced person who I claim to be, here I am negating the experience of other humans for nothing more than my own grasping need to die in a world that is familiar to me.
Probably ten years from now, it will be as common to have people pictures laden with cellular phones as it was to see handkerchiefs in the pockets (suit pockets, no less!) of men on the street in photos taken in the 1950’s.
Why does that sound terrifying to me?
Besides, if I had spent a little more time observing and less time bitching while up on the bluff, I may have found that, indeed, each of these people was beaming out photographs of that joyful sunset to their target callers. How Sweet — sharing this glorious moment with friends in Louisiana under four feet of water!
It’s hard enough to be in a rotten mood and have to listen to that bubbly fool on the other end of any phone. But to be able to get the whole picture of that joy is torturous. The moment becomes a series of thumbscrews bleating, “See how Happy I am? What’s wrong with your miserable existence?”
You’re so damn busy getting annoyed at the callers happiness you can’t even appreciate the beauty that’s around you, that’s the soul that cellphones suck out of you.
What will happen to our anonymity and privacy? “C’mon, Dear, I know you’re miserable but turn on the camera so I can really see!”
No, I will not get a cell-phone. I don’t have to. The last time my motorcycle and I broke down on the road, for instance, I just jumped out in the middle of the highway, spread my fingers with my pinkie pointed to my mouth and my thumb to my ear and within four cars and a near side-swipe, some guy pulled over and let me use his cell phone to call for help.
Like any red-blooded American, of course I reserve the right to be a hypocrite. But still, because I am an American, I shouldn’t have to give up my inalienable right to hide. Places to hide are getting fewer and further between, and that, in the final analysis, is my bitch with cell phones and their spawn.
Now, the privileged drive SUV’s with those systems that put you in touch with Central Command immediately in the event of an emergency. Like if one of the kids in the back seat says “I gotta pee,” next thing you know a voice comes out of the heavens to say, “Just make the next left, go two blocks and turn into the McDonald’s…Oh, and while you’re there, don’t forget to Supersize the fries, the extra salt will help the kids hold their bladders longer, and Mr. Mandel, please don’t run the red light like you did that one three blocks ago.”
Though I have nothing against him personally, when Gary Coleman tells me (in commercials slathered over TV, Internet AND Movies!) “Somebody should” know where I am every minute of my life, I can’t help but wince and prepare for Armegeddon.
I know it starts with people like Gary appearing to me to prepare me for the way life will be. I know the same technology that will let you see and talk to me will let “them” see and listen to me, and frankly, I want no part of it.
Unless, of course, I get stranded.
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