My Irish Up: Distraction City

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Mike Corrigan

BN Columnist

Now that we have phones that do everything for you but brush your teeth and kiss your wife — okay, now that we have phones that do everything for you but brush your teeth (but why not, bristles would be an easy app?) — people have discovered that they never have to be present at all.

I strolled downtown the other night and three fellow walkers crossed right in front of me, studying their phones as if monitoring the night’s instructions from Planet Xerflux, their faces bathed in a blue light, expressions registering an absorbed vacancy. At that moment a car passed, the driver holding up his cell phone to check on some part of his life that wasn’t in the car at that moment either. Had he aimed the phone in the other direction, he could have turned off his headlights. Had all four met in the center of the square, they may have created a critical mass of distance and self-absorbed absence and disappeared in a flash of light, perhaps taking Hullett Square with them. Would anyone have noticed? Not they, certainly. They would have merely assumed that they were hard-wired into the new iPhone6Z, and lapsed into permanent coma.

With our super-personalized gadgets and electronica, we are forging a new species. Offspring of the current over-wired younger generations are already being born with extension cords, not umbilical cords; and the rising generations will come equipped with WiFi. That’s evolution for you. Soon, their parents will have computer chips implanted in their brains to constantly tune into their favorite shows and songs and games. A generation or two after that, these chips will replace the brain entirely. We will be entertained, 24/7. We will have entered the Matrix.

Ad in a magazine the other day. Young Afro-American woman, jogging. Wire out of her ear. Copy says, “Now you never have to go anywhere or do anything without your music.” Only the ad capitalized the first letter of each word to make the sentence seem important. “Your Music.” They don’t mean music the girl has written or performed, they mean music she has chosen. She will not be held captive by the agendas of radio producers and advertisers! She will be an individual, an American! She may have no real voice or choice in anything else that happens to her; she doesn’t script the plot to the movie she’s in. But she does get to choose the soundtrack. Consumerism has become a more favored status than citizenship. Because real citizens, it turns out, can’t be bought. Consumers are a dime a dozen. Who knew?

America’s version of democracy celebrates a rampant individualism that closes us off from everyone else and makes each man and woman a competitor for non-infinite goodies. The effects of this are not healthy for the competitors nor, it turns out, for the planet. Still, we are told that we all need new and more stylish cars and clothes and gadgets. If you don’t believe it, check the ads. And we need our phones, and more Next-G ones. We need our shows. We need “our music.” These things are our rights as citizens of the most individualistic nation on Earth, and they have become consolation prizes for never actually innovating anything ourselves, or even making something useful or beautiful.

But a funny thing happened on the way to rampant materialism (a.ka. The American Dream): things ended up owning their owners. We, who could have been the freest citizens in the freest nation on Earth, are controlled by what we have, and we sweat onward in hot pursuit of whatever it is we want and have not yet purchased. Go to war for oil? Why not? We need oil, right? Trade civil liberties for security? Sure! Who needs real freedom when you've supposedly got economic freedom?

Money’s everything. Our banks have been deemed Too Big to Fail, and have not been allowed to pay the price for their recklessness, but you know what? America isn’t too big to fail. Western Civilization isn’t. And if it all falls apart, it’s possible everyone will be too distracted to even notice.

Mike intended to write a different column, but got distracted.

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