Vanitas

You can walk across any college campus today and find student after student staring into the screen of a cell phone with blank fascination. I just went to make a photocopy and happened upon two such students, each draped across a sofa, each gazing into their message screens. Whenever I see these students I am reminded of a common image in Western art. For centuries painters have depicted young, beautiful women staring into mirrors.

Ostensibly such paintings were meant to be moral warnings against vanity. In actuality the warning was only an excusatory fig leaf that allowed respectable men to ogle beautiful women while "tut-tutting" about the caprices of the weaker sex. Even so, it's striking how similar the expressions of student cell phone users are to those old paintings. The tiny electronic screens are luminescent mirrors into which both male and female students endlessly peer in rapt self-absorption.

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