I travel almost every week of the year, usually on aeroplanes and a myriad of public transport systems. For a short flight I pack a book, an iPod and my laptop so that I can work or listen to my favourite music. I once was about to board a long haul flight and realised I had no book and immediately ran to a book vending machine and bought a paperback I didn’t even like the look of for fear I would be bored. This was despite the fact the airline showed 20 latest movies and had a vast music system on board. God forbid I had nothing to do with myself as I flew through the skies for 14 hours.
It made me wonder why we need to fill every waking thought with either visual, audio or brain stimulation. Can’t we just simply ‘be’?
Today’s kids (That makes me sound fully middle-aged) are the same. I have a small niece who can’t go a car journey without her hand-held computer game. She needs either a personal video player to watch cartoons or music in her iPod or she gets cranky. She is eight years old. What the hell happened to staring out of the window and watching the scenery flash by? Remember car journeys when you were young and you asked questions about the area you were going through or you just shut up and let the journey happen and you sat quiet when adults chatted?
Teens go out for a night and spend the whole time taking photos of themselves to upload onto Facebook or their webpage to show people how much fun they were having. But they all pose in uncomfortable chummy poses, as if documenting the fun for posterity but not actually living it: it’s as if they have become a pastiche of themselves.
Then, in-between conversations, they sit and click thumbs on phones, either texting or sending their stiffly-posed pics up onto the web. I recall being a bored teenager; we drank cider, vomited and sat on freezing cold stoops just chatting nonsense to each other.
We didn’t have DVD players, computer games or the ability to watch pop stars’ videos on a mobile phone. We described entire movies we had seen to each other and sometimes embellished the storyline. (Well I know I did.) I once sat with five friends and described scene-by-scene the movie Jaws and it involved a lion being eaten by a shark and a baby being dragged into the ocean and its head coming off! That’s what we did and it was fun; sometimes we all sat in silence and just enjoyed the quiet times; usually I broke that with another story, this time about an evil clown.
Children today are horrified at the thought of being given nothing to do but sit and be quiet. It won’t kill them and we are the teachers of them – we fill every minute of the day with all kids of sensory entertainment – background music, screen savers or, in my case, the radio being on all night as I sleep. Are we really scared of silence? What will happen if we hear nothing?
Now there is a huge market for alternative healers who advertise ‘retreats’ – basically they just deny you access to all electronic devices and rub hot chucky stones on your back, throw lemon tea at you and tell you sit quiet, then charge you a fortune for that pleasure.
Do it yourself, people! Stop reading this, get onto the sofa, sit quite for a whole hour and have a good rummage around your brain and tell me that you don’t picture a lion being eaten by a shark.
© Janey Godley, October 2009