July 20th, 2006

The Many Fold Over the One

I'm sitting in one of those rooms that some airports now have in which travelers can use an internet connection, comfortable chair, and numerous outlets for recharging their technological devices. It also has a big flat-panel screen tuned to CNN. While I was reading a little while ago, I kept looking up to meet the eyes of the people across the room, who were alternating between staring at their computers or books and paying attention to the news. Last night I used the fitness center at our hotel and found my eyes roving from one flat-panel to another. At one point I was on the treadmill listening to South Park on the headphones attached to the screen in front of me and looking over at the news on the one to my left and the late-night talk show on the one to my right. Even the hotel lobby was a multimedia experience, with 40 inches of ESPN distracting me as I read my e-mail and downloaded photos from camera to laptop. None of this is particularly surprising, but it still feels like the new world so sensuously predicted in the science-fiction novels and films of the previous two decades is finally here. It's becoming harder and harder to tune out the ambient media of our world. And I'm not sure that I mind. Even though I sometimes crave a monastic existence, I still find myself in places like this, demonstrating my willingness to participate in a culture that puts access before privacy.