During recent travels, a colleague and I pulled into a gas station to get fuel and stretch our legs. It was a gas station like so many thousands across the country without anything extraordinary about it.
However, as we returned to the car, we noticed a middle-aged woman speaking on what appeared to be an intercom system. It looked like she was trying to get the pump to work and was using the intercom to resolve a problem with the people inside. It was very loud and everyone in the fueling area could hear.
But we soon realized that the sound was actually blaring from the car’s speakers. This lady was not talking to the gas station cashier. She was not on an intercom, but a cell phone. She was using the car’s system to talk with a friend as she walked around the car to pump her own gas. She simply did not care that everyone could very clearly hear everything in the whole conversation as if on a public address system.
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All the people around the car were shocked by the incident. They could not believe that someone would go to the point of broadcasting a personal dialogue. When my colleague shouted over the din asking the lady what was going on, she seemed puzzled that someone thought the practice strange. She just kept on talking.
The small incident in the gas station is an extreme example of what we all experience every day. In airports, people on their devices watch programs with their volumes turned on loud, oblivious to those around them. And, of course, who has not seen people in public places seemingly speaking loudly and passionately to themselves as they use their Bluetooth apparatuses to engage in private conversations now made public?
Such incidents reveal grave problems that plague our society. The first one is the blurring of the barrier that should separate public and private matters in our lives. The internal life of thought, introspection and contemplation inside an intense family atmosphere provides a defense against the overwhelming activity of the outside world. We all need “down time” to sort out problems and repair close relationships. On the other hand, the outside world allows us to disconnect from these intense concerns of private life and enter into social interaction which broadens horizons and multiplies possibilities for action.
But now, as the gas station broadcaster indicated, every public space is potentially a scene for the private as we bring our personal connections with us everywhere. Every personal text or call is immediately answered, interrupting the most solemn or social occasions. At the same time, every private space becomes an occasion for public matters as emails, calls and texts from business or work interrupt our leisure and turn us into 24/7 functionaries perpetually on call.
The result is a situation where we can never really disconnect since we are always looking for that tiny rush that comes from being connected. We no longer experience the freedom and joy of disconnection. Rather, we are high-strung and stressed out since both public and private spheres cannot function properly.
It leads to the second grave problem that plagues our society, what I call “frenetic intemperance,” a spirit of unrestraint that haunts our culture. Without time or a will to reflect, we must have everything now - instantly and effortlessly. We no longer seem to care about those around us, since any such consideration would pose an obstacle to our instant gratification. The connected person only cares about being connected and satisfying the impulses that come from connection.
This “frenetic intemperance” is tearing our society and economy apart. The supreme irony of it all is that our devices are seen as expressions of freedom. We must convince ourselves that they can also be instruments of enslavement. Some kind of return to order is needed to reestablish healthy boundaries once again. It is time to set ourselves free.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author. Recently his book Return to Order ranked first on Amazon in four countries. Mr. Horvat lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he heads the Tradition, Family, and Property Commission on American Studies. You can reach Mr. Horvat directly at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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