We have met the enemy and he is us. —Walt Kelly
For a long time I have been railing at friends, and even total strangers trapped in slow moving bank or grocery checkout lines, about the nearly universal use of ear buds. Without sounding too much like the late Andy Rooney, I was against them, almost to the point of producing spittle. I viewed the ubiquitous ivory colored plugs as more than a minor distraction or fashion statement, but an antisocial act. By choosing to seal ourselves in an audio bubble, we not only erect additional barriers with others, but we may stifle our own thoughts. A brimming haiku, a stinging letter to the editor, a snappy retort for the next tailgating yahoo in a monster truck…snuffed out by a medley of The Grass Roots Greatest Hits.
When I really got going I could verbally Evil Knievel the Snake River Canyon of logic and extrapolate a world of isolated Bee Gees listening zombies, anesthetized and ripe for totalitarian picking. We walk the lakes and hike the wilderness for the quiet and ambient sounds. Nature does not require a soundtrack. Thoreau cruising around Walden with an iPod? Blasphemy!
Profound alienation, a diss to the environment, issues of safety (distractibility and what that can entail), and the risk of hearing loss to the wearer. That was my platform, shared with anyone who would listen, and a few that merely turned up the volume to mute my diatribe. I now see these views as more than a tad extreme, but not without merit. Nonetheless I have done almost a complete 180 degree turn. I still do not know what others were listening to, but I always assumed it was music. I enjoy music, but I do not need it piped over a loudspeaker in a mega mall (another topic) or in my ears.
Podcasts are another story. I can go for a walk with Ira Glass (This American Life) and not need to hold up my end of the conversation. I do not watch sports very often, but I am hooked on the soap opera which is Peyton Manning, Jeremy Lin, and Ryan Braun. Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Mike and Mike, are my podcast pals that make going to the post office or to buying gas (ouch) more interesting.
I have the zeal of a convert. Do I want to invite a friend on a walk or for tea, and risk a possibly tearful/angst ridden/ intimate/messy/galvanizing/soul-baring/cathartic/breakthrough/bonding/heartfelt exploration of the preciousness of life, the impossible pain of unrequited love, the existential barrenness of possessions, and the hollowness of unfulfilled dreams? Or do I want to go out alone, but with the voice of Keith Olbermann updating me on the latest hijinks of fools in high places?
Tom H. Cook is a very longtime writer for this paper, which is not an excuse, but perhaps an explanation. He will probably return next month unless someone tells him to stop.