Recently, I have been cycling to work and it has given me more of an opportunity to look at the other commuters then driving did. I have noticed that the vast majority of them are plugged into some form of media, one way or another.
Pedestrians and cyclists have headphones. Many of those in cars appear to be singing along or are laughing at what I presume to be the radio, although it is entirely possible that it's the sight of my cycling attire that is tickling them. I suppose shorts, a neon cagoule and a pink and white scarf tied around my face does look a tad eccentric, especially when it's raining. So far it has prevented me from being run over and reduced the amount of time spent sneezing upon arrival at work, so there is something to say for it.
Perhaps my view of things is a little skewed, but it seems to me that people can't have time to think. They are flooded with media.
The radio or television is on over breakfast, head phones or the radio are on on the way to work or school and again on the way home, then there's internet, radio and television to pass the evening. I know of quite a few people who go to sleep listening to the radio or watching television in bed.
Until the past six months or so, I was filling my commutes with radio and my evenings with television documentaries and the internet. Then I realised I was actively seeking out 'entertainment' (in fairly loose terms) to fill up all my spare time. I was forgetting how to think and how to entertain myself. The way I was going, I'd have been turning round and saying "I'm bored" in the next power cut.
I banned myself from television, radio and recreational internet use for a fortnight. It was great. I read a load of books, got a load of jobs done that I'd been putting off and did a lot of thinking. Following the ban, I've watched hardly any television and I spend much less time with the radio on or playing on the internet than I used to.
If I'm listening to music on the radio, I will change station every time they play a song I dislike. The peace and quiet of not listening reminded me that, while they may have catchy tunes, I generally disagree with at least part of the lyrics of most of the songs I sing along with on the radio. They all seem to be about sex, money, dancing on the furniture and gratuitously doing whatever you like, irrespective of the consequences.
We do make choices about what we watch and what we listen to - we can always change channel, after all, but the choices we are making are the kind of choices you give to small children: "do you want to wear the black shorts and the red t-shirt or the blue shorts and the yellow t-shirt?" There's a big difference between that and "what do you want to wear today?" or even "are you going to get dressed today?"
How much of what we're taking in has a bearing on our daily lives? How many of us feel we know Brad Pitt, Katie Price or Posh and Becks better than we know our neighbours? We're on first name terms with celebrities, but do we really even know what they look like? The pictures are edited, in films they're made up. Why do we care what their favourite breakfast is? Are they coming round for a fry-up?
Don't even get me started on advertising. I remember a good few years ago really laughing at an episode of Malcolm in the Middle where a toy in an advert is talking to the youngest brother and eventually says "I didn't want to have to tell you this but, if you don't buy me, you'll die". Recently adverts, including one for a touchless soap dispenser, seem to be getting pretty close to this.
It's pretty telling that advertisers think that we're more likely to buy insurance from someone making a song and dance of it, literally, than someone who actually tells us about the policy. The impression I get is that that stuff is boring and customers don't want to get bogged down with the details. Companies are offering adults teddies as an incentive to buy insurance.
Every now and then disparaging comments are made about parents using the television or computer as a nanny for their children. Are we not doing the same to ourselves? We hide from the harder parts of life by taking away our own choices. We don't need to think, we can drown it out with the telly. We don't need to consider the prices, terms and conditions of different policies - the television says "would you like the one with the free teddy or the one with the steering wheel cover?" Imagine if we didn't have all that noise and distraction - all the questioning we'd do. We might even think about our actions and feelings. But doesn't that sound a bit dangerous? Maybe we've forgotten how to use our imaginations anyway.
There are so many flavours of reality on offer these days: reality TV, virtual reality, augmented reality, scripted reality - which is real anyway? By the light of the idiot lantern, everything and nothing is true. Everything we're consuming is someone else's version of reality. Maybe we should unplug ourselves from time to time and create our own.