We are increasingly a race of isolated and anonymous creatures, faces glued to miniature screens. Even as I write these words on my MacBook, I recognize just how much I also have succumbed, having become an appendage to my appliances, and not the appliances an appendage to me. Sitting in a breakfast café in lower Manhattan, watching all of those sitting alone, playing with their iPhones reminds me that this is our fate. Do we play to avoid human contact, or forget the contact because we are busy playing? It was the same on the airplane, and wherever else you look we are prisoners of these appliances, plied to us by those who have the money and the power to get their messages out.
Well, let me stop and correct myself folks. I just witnessed some of our great Independence Day celebrations, right here in Southern California. People are not isolated with their Macs. Why, no! They are gathered on rooftops, balconies, and beaches, lined up on roads on foot or in their cars, all anticipating the big spectacle in the skies. They are barbequing, drinking and marveling at the colorful lights from the pyrotechnics across their horizons. Now, if that isn’t communing with one another and with nature, I guess I don’t know what is. Am I speaking tongue in cheek? Of course I am. The charade of community and communication represented by such affairs is obvious to the touch. Do such events allow us to overcome the isolation of increasingly alienated lives? Of course not. And is there not a specific irony in such Independence Day spectacles in any event, given the increasing gravity of our current awakening – independence from what, and for what? We are like cattle lined up for the slaughter.
The idle chatter encountered at such events itself betrays the paucity of real connectedness among the revelers. The ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ that accompany the apparent spellbinding nature of the heavenly displays are the best we can hope for at these times in terms of meaningful expressions of concern or appreciation. And even there the appliances are on display, the smart phones, the digital cameras, all to help freeze the event and capture the spectacle for posterity.
Does the question even get asked or considered among these folks: why are we here? What is the nature of this freedom we are celebrating? Where is Julian Assange and Bradley Manning? Why is Eric Snowden being hunted down like a criminal? And what of the others being persecuted by this State, our State? No, the questions are not posed. The drinking and barbequing continue apace, while a lone bugler intones the national anthem from his balcony. People exclaiming ‘God bless America’ and other trite expressions of citizenship, of “belonging.” God, how heart wrenching! And, when you are free to stop your car in a line-up with a multitude of others in the middle of the paved roadway to partake of the mesmerizing spectacle of your own freedom, boy is that freedom! Isn’t it? And that is community, is it not?
Further, they must awaken the next morning feeling good about themselves, having shown not only their patriotism, but their fellow feeling, their community, their connectedness, and their right to ‘free’ assembly. This is a joke, right? I have no idea what gives people the idea that such gatherings are bonding events, expressions suggesting that we are not still anonymous and isolated individuals in a crowd of others, glued to the spectacle on the screen.
We remain imprisoned by the appliances and the State, by Wall Street and Madison Avenue, and by the illusions of our own freedom. They can censor us, monitor our communications, crush our attempts to have our voices heard, take away our savings and our homes, humiliate us and lie to us, snoop on us, x-ray us, and strip us at the airport; but give us a place to stand among a crowd on the beach and watch the fireworks with a beer and a brat in hand… now that’s freedom!