Field notes from a late, late, late adopter

To put my late adoption into context, let me just admit one fact up front.  The year is 2012 and I only in the past week got a cell phone.  Yep, that's right, a cell phone.  I am the latest of late adopters.  I have never texted or tweeted.  I've never Game-Boyed or Wii.-ed.  I don't even know if these things can be made into verbs.  For heaven's sake, I have never had cable TV.  Once at friend's apartment years ago, I was mindlessly flipping through the channels and I muttered something like, "Good heavens, there's an entire network devoted to cartoons?"

He just gaped at me and said, "You never change, man."

He was wrong.  I do change, but at a glacial pace.  And my pace has recently begun to speed up.  Unavoidably, ineluctably, all of the new media platforms that people have been living with for decades are insinuating themselves into my life.  Me, the tardiest of late adopters.  In the last year alone I've found myself imbibing in streaming video from Netflix, free podcasts on I-Tunes and audio books from the public library.  And now I have this object that I've feared for years in my pocket.  It gives me more ways of distracting myself than ever before.  Indeed, the world is suddenly teeming with diversion.

What I find disturbing is the death of the empty afternoon, of being alone, of moments when you are thrown back on yourself in what Wordsworth called a "wise passiveness."  Indeed, Wordsworth's fellow Romantic Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay Nature, "I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars." 

But do people stare at stars alone anymore?  Everywhere I go people are staring into tiny screens to stay in constant contact with their on-line society.   Heck, why sit passively watching the birds in the backyard when you can fill that empty space with Angry Birds?  An article in this week's Sunday New York Times Magazine (which I read the old fashioned way) makes this point about the pointlessness of cell phone games better than I can.  The author, Sam Anderson, argues that
Stupid games... are rarely occasions in themselves. They are designed to push their way through the cracks of other occasions. We play them incidentally, ambivalently, compulsively, almost accidentally. They’re less an activity in our day than a blank space in our day; less a pursuit than a distraction from other pursuits.
Distraction?  Compulsion?  You might say people today are filling up the cracks of their day with--well--crack.

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