Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Airport Assault on the Senses

Today as I sat down in the airport to wait until called to board the plane, my fiance and I were immediately faced with what became a most miserable thirty-five minutes of useless time. During this exceedingly unpalatable time span, there was no hope of salvaging productivity to any degree. What was the reason for an experience such as this?

The trouble was that a CNN talking head was "discussing" American Idol on a conspicuously placed, massive high-definition flat screen television, with the volume reaching decibels which my functionally deaf grandfather would have found troublesome. The screen was of such an imposing size that it was difficult to escape the flashing images, even when not looking directly at the gargantuan pixel machine. It was so loud that I could not even have a remotely intelligent conversation with Justin, as we could only wince at the offending noise and idiotic sound bytes that persisted in distracting us from coherent thought. Even worse, I could not read, as mental engagement of that sort was rendered impossible as well. So, we sat in near agony while trying to intelligibly communicate how invasive and inescapable public obnoxiousness is. However, our experience was somewhat softened by a brief five minute excursion to purchase a slice of sub-par pizza.

The "public" world has become a concentrated locus for forced and unsolicited overstimulation, while riding on the assumption that society does not need or want to truly concentrate on thinking anyway. This is a presumption that only leads to a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy: To act as if society has no desire to think will only prevent many from knowing that thought is not only possible, but also that engaging the intellect is a beautiful and necessary endeavor. High definition televisions tuned to useless and cheap shows will, in this case, continue to prevail over any attempt at depth when development of the latter is not nurtured and worship of the former is the norm. All the while, culture weakens and thins from the inside.


Kevin Winters said...

Please don't take this as an insult or a slap in the face, but couldn't it also just be that your mind is not trained enough to simply tune out such distractions? I ask because I have never had that kind of a problem to that high of a degree and I always read when traveling. I could suggest a regiment of a few very simple meditation practices, but I'm afraid of a Groothuis-like condemnation of peddling (or smuggling?) Hinduism/Buddhism.

Sarah Scott said...


I always have many books with me when I am traveling, and usually get a great deal of reading done. I do not demand complete silence, but certainly do not appreciate extreme obnoxiousness on a larger scale.

In an (all too brief) response to your meditation suggestion, meditation (in the sense of clearing the mind) is the complete antithesis of wisdom and knowledge. A cleared mind is not a thinking mind. You cannot help your ability to focus on learning and thinking critically in the presence of a "cleared" mind.

danny wright said...

I totally agree with you Sara. I go out of my way to get away from them when I'm in airports, not just because the sound is annoying, but also because of the constant drivel. They remind me of pre-invasion Baghdad with those statues of Sadam to remind everyone who's in charge. Only we don't have statues in public places, we have CNN.

Kevin Winters said...

I certainly wouldn't say it is an antithesis, though I would say (along with the Buddhist tradition) that it is an important part part of gaining wisdom and knowledge; surely a mind that is constantly racing from one thought to another ('monkey mind') lacks the clarity to genuinely dwell with and think about a particular issue with any depth. This, of course, is is why there are, generally speaking, two kinds of meditation in Buddhism, vipassana and shamatha, wisdom and concentration meditation, respectively. Though they may be practiced/developed separately, they really should be done together.

I wonder what you mean by a "cleared" mind as you seem to think that it is some unthinking stupor. You also seem to think that perfecting this kind of concentration disavows thinking, which is also a strange claim. Out of curiosity, where are you getting this information?