The digital dilemma: Turning us into zombies

Garrison Ebie

Sometimes I wish I could get a time machine, bring back people from 300 years ago into today’s world and see how freaked out they would get.

The horseless carriages, the magical screens that light up like windows to an alternate dimension, the impossibly high cylinder-shaped towers billowing out smoke like volcanic eruptions. The figures from days past may very well just duck and hide under a rock, unable to comprehend what the devil is going on. But more than anything, they would ponder, “What on Earth are those things in everyone’s ears?”

Portable music players are about as common now as the clothes they get attached to. In fact, soon enough, we’ll probably see iPods being sold next to T-shirts and jeans.

Time travelers from the past would be quite impressed by this miracle of sound. Everyone can fit into their back pocket what used to take live musicians hours and hours to play. All this aside, eventually I imagine they would begin to question our ability to appreciate communicating with our fellow human counterparts.

I have nothing against iPods. These are brilliant marvels bringing technology and music together in a mushy matrimonial sort of way. How else can someone fit an entire record collection into his or her back pocket?

When you already know what such a thing is for, of course the tiny data devices make sense. We tend to take for granted how impressive it is to process billions of computations every second just by using a seemingly endless series of two digits, then manipulate those into things like, say, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. It works. That’s all we care about. Although those time travelers would probably be bewildered, thinking, “Maybe these are brain extensions. Maybe this is witchcraft. Maybe these people are all zombies.”

Anyway, MP3 players are pretty cool. But when I say I don’t have one, you might ask, “Why?” That’s easy to answer.

I lose everything. I am quite positive that within months, my $400 MP3 player will vanish into thin air. Poof. Just like that. So instead of living through that kind of tragedy, my imagination will suffice, and I’ll just keep singing songs in my head.

Again, these are great tools to keep one’s spirits high while on the run. But to all readers out there: Please, please, please times a thousand – keep your head in THIS world. Maximum volume is not all right when you’re trying to cross the street. Save that for the times you’re all baked off the sticky buds and feel like watching the grass grow while listening to “Dark Side of the Moon.” Believe me. It’s euphoric.

Stressing the importance of paying attention to one’s surroundings is critical. I’m talking to you, Mr. “Stares-at-the-cracks-in-the-sidewalk-while-walking-full-speed-and-mouthing-the-words-to-a-metallica-song.” Look alive. Watch out for cars.

I know that trying to find the right tune out of a collection of 20,000 can be a really daunting task. However, anyone staring at a 2-inch-wide digital screen in the middle of a busy sidewalk might as well be begging to get slammed into by someone else trying to send a text message – two in the same, as far as I’m concerned. So for such an occasion, make a “walking down a busy street” playlist and look out for disgruntled texters.

An iPod is very convenient to have. Unfortunately, its users sometimes have zero self-discipline, or common sense for that matter. They think it’s just fine to keep it on all the time, keeping themselves in a little bubble, unassociated with the surrounding world.

We’re talking about taking away people’s ability to hear what’s going on around them. Even though some may live their entire lives without that particular sense, the rest of us aren’t used to it yet and some folks need every sense available just to stay afloat. Owning a set of headphones might one day require a permit.

To someone like a visitor from the 19th century, who doesn’t quite understand what the ear buds are for, several of us would appear all spaced-out and unresponsive to exterior stimuli. That’s not true. We just can’t hear anything.

Garrison Ebie is a senior electronic media production major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].