Friday, May 2, 2014

Must we be constantly entertained?

At a foggy ferry ramp in Yarmouth, the Cat Ferry to Bar Harbour, Maine is ready to board. This service ended in 2010, but was relaunched.

I have this memory from a trip I took with my daughter there ten years ago. That foggy day at the terminal, I talked to a woman who shared my view about the losses, social and personal, that we have witnessed on the debit side of recent technological gains. It's insidious how new technologies grip us ever more tightly.

Perhaps the most serious of these losses is quietude. We allow radio, the TV, live streaming videos and podcasts to colonize our waking hours, leaving little or no time for silence, solitude, or solitary contemplation.

To ride the Cat was not in our original plans, since it meant asking elderly relatives, who lived in New Hampshire, to drive a long way to pick us up in Maine. But we had little choice. The Caribou was in drydock for repair, and the Portland run didn't fit our tight schedule either.

The woman I spoke to was also waiting to board. I told her how we'd intended to take the other ship. "Oh," she said, "no loss. That crossing is very noisy. It's a casino style party boat."

For a moment we were quiet, as I recalled the times in years past when I had soothed my soul with silent boat trips, reading, scribbling in my notebook, chatting with a fellow traveller or enjoying a coffee or a solitary meal while I watched the waves slip by the window.

The woman advised us how to avoid the giant screen TVs that were constantly bombarding the passengers, willing or not, with the latest on CNN. "Sit at the very front," she said. There are a couple of small tables there, nice and quiet. The two of you can have a quiet crossing and enjoy the scenery."

When I thanked her for the tip, my fellow passenger asked her rhetorical question, which has come to mind on many occasions since that journey.

"Why must we be entertained all the time?"

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