This post has nothing to do with mass incarceration or terrorism or any of the other lighthearted subjects I write about, but I wonder if it wears away at me nonetheless, day after day.
Have you noticed the proliferation in unnecessary noise and lights?
For instance, I spent a night in a hotel this weekend and I counted the unnecessary lights as I tried to get to sleep. There was a white light on the smoke detector, a red one on the TV, another one on the DVD player, one on the phone, a green one on the key card holder by the door, another on the bedside clock. Why? I had closed the drapes to block out the millions of lights from the skyscrapers surrounding the 23rd floor room, but that didn’t do anything to block the lights inside. Were the technicians who designed all these gadgets worried I might get up in the middle of the night and crash into the TV screen because I can’t see it in the dark?
The previous week, my friend Sarah and I were hanging out at the Mississippi River. We meet up there every couple of weeks on nice days, bring chairs, and watch eagles soar and the sun sparkling on the water as it rolls by and we update each other on our lives.
There is an off-leash dog park across the river from the park we hang out in. It’s a source of occasional irritating noise pollution in the form of barking, but on this day it was incessant. There must have been 10 dogs barking for a half hour or more.
Then, a guy backed his boat trailer into the river and proceeded to rev his engine, which in addition to generating annoying noise, produced billows of diesel fumes. Sarah and I and the others around us exchanged looks. How long would this go on?
Being a direct person, I walked over and waved at the guy to get his attention. I asked how long he would be revving his boat engine. He said, “Five minutes—why?” I said, “Because it’s noisy and the diesel fumes are unpleasant.” He said, “It’s a boat landing!” I replied, “It’s a boat landing that’s part of a public park.”
Sarah and I and our neighboring nature lovers picked up our chairs and moved upwind of him, which didn’t do anything to decrease the noise. We expected him to purposely keep on for longer than five minutes but true to his word he finished and left.
“I was thinking the other day,” said Sarah, who is as curmudgeonly as I am, “of all the ways this park could be ruined.
“First, they’ll install wireless, and put up signs everywhere announcing it as a great new feature.” As she said this, a couple strolled by on the beach with their two young children, both the parents staring down at their phones while the kiddies toddled near the river’s edge.
“Then they’ll install a massive screen across this space in front of us, so we can watch videos of the river, at the river …”
She was interrupted by a loud buzzing noise. I’m not kidding. It was a drone. Everyone stared over at it, and Sarah whipped out her camera to take a picture. “Don’t encourage him!” I pleaded. But she wanted a photo to show her son. The drone droned on for 10 minutes or so, then the owner must have gotten bored and left. So much for watching eagles soar.
There are lots more unnecessary lights and noises at work, at home, in bars and restaurants, on trains, and especially in airports. Argh! Don’t get me started on airports and airplanes.
Does all this screen presence and beeping/barking/buzzing/bloop bloop blooping bother me so much because I am old? Do younger people, the so-called digital natives, just not notice it? Maybe they actually like it? Maybe they actually need it?