Cell phones, television, and other causes of our

by maddrunkgenius

In 1798, William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge published a collection of poems called Lyrical Ballads, and in a later edition in 1802, Wordsworth wrote a preface kind of explaining what he was doing and setting down the elements of what people now call Romantic literature. All fine and good, but not especially important except for knowing the context this comes from.

Originally Posted by William Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads

I will not suffer a sense of false modesty to prevent me from asserting, that I point my Reader’s attention to this mark of distinction, far less for the sake of these particular Poems than from the general importance of the subject. The subject is indeed important! For the human mind is capable of being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this, and who does not further know, that one being is elevated above another, in proportion as he possesses this capability.

It has therefore appeared to me, that to endeavour to produce or enlarge this capability is one of the best services in which, at any period, a Writer can be engaged; but this service, excellent at all times, is especially so at the present day. For a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the encreasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies.

To this tendency of life and manners the literature and theatrical exhibitions of the country have conformed themselves. The invaluable works of our elder writers, I had almost said the works of Shakespeare and Milton, are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse. When I think upon this degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation, I am almost ashamed to have spoken of the feeble effort with which I have endeavoured to counteract it; and, reflecting upon the magnitude of the general evil, I should be oppressed with no dishonorable melancholy, had I not a deep impression of certain inherent and indestructible qualities of the human mind, and likewise of certain powers in the great and permanent objects that act upon it which are equally inherent and indestructible; and did I not further add to this impression a belief, that the time is approaching when the evil will be systematically opposed, by men of greater powers, and with far more distinguished success.

For all of his talk of “ordinary language”, Wordsworth could probably stand to communicate a little better, but what he’s basically saying here is that because people live in cities, work on a schedule, and have open to them all kinds of smut and stimulation, they ignore past literary works and generally, just don’t ever stop to think or contemplate. Unlike past people or rural folk, the minds of his generation of city dwellers have been dulled to a point of half-consciousness by their own drudgery and cheap attempts to escape it.

Remember, he held this opinion back at the turn of the 19th Century.

Fastforward about a hundred and fifty years to where you have Ray Bradbury writing about censorship in Fahrenheit 451, but also a great deal about people losing the desire to think, constantly needing stimulation from some cheap external source. The wall TVs, the seashells, watching people get mauled by Mechanical Hounds.

Originally Posted by Ray Bradbury in 1962
In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.

Nuclear wars and book burnings are relics of mid-Century hysterics, but Bradbury’s aim hit the mark in at least one way.

All of this I bring up only because something happened to me which scared me shitless. I was at the bank and forced to wait for it must have been ten or fifteen minutes inside one of the offices while the lady was out checking on something else. But I had my cell phone and I love me my Tetris. I played it and was completely and totally unaware of the time going by until she came back in and I stopped playing and continued as normal.

It wasn’t until I got back in my car and had to drive a long way by myself did I realize what had happened and the significance of it. Instead of being inside my own head and exercising it in some way, it was on standby while the automatic part stimulated itself with some trivial, portable game.

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this?

As I write, the television is on, music is playing, and I’m checking out several other websites. I haven’t watched a movie on television solid through in years because the commercials or down tempo sections send me scrambling for something more exciting on another channel. Whenever I sit down to try and actually read a book, I usually end up falling asleep. And I’m supposed to be one of the good ones. I don’t have ADD, I don’t use my cellphone much, or take pictures to send people, never text message. I don’t need to be in contact with my friends or for a job 24-7, and yet I am unable to be alone in my head unless forcibly deprived of it.

Here’s the scary thing: most of us are old enough to remember when cell phones were uncommon, and all of us are old enough to remember when they were just phones. The generations coming up are not.

As bad as I am about all of this, what will they be like?