But in a way, I think we’re being too hard on tablets. They are just another symptom of the underlying disease. In some sense, they’re the perfect totem of our age. Most of us long ago became completely content to trade off authentic living for vicarious e-living, to keep ourselves perpetually distracted with the low hum of iBusyness. If you could transport yourself back in time, you’d see that in reality, nothing is more urgent today than it was 15 years ago. Except for our need to get pulled in 100 different concurrent directions by the machines that we pretend make our lives simpler. We have become so accustomed to kitting ourselves up with distractions, that we are now buying distractions to distract us from the distractions. That is what we now do. We run, and we run, and we run. And yet it’s never entirely clear what we’re running to. Or more likely, what we’re running from. Our thoughts? Ourselves? It’s as though we’re plugging our ears to silence the silence.
In his excellent collection of essays, “We Learn Nothing,” Tim Kreider writes of the difficulty of achieving stillness when he’s forced to sit in a hospital while tending his mother. He found himself becoming impatient with her for growing old and sick. He grew irritated at his own irritability. Attempting to distill what was really gnawing at him, he decided it was fear. And of this fear, Kreider writes:
“I wonder whether this same fear isn’t beneath our twenty-first-century intolerance for waits and downtime and silence. It’s as if, if we all had to stand still and shut up and turn off our machines for one minute, we’d hear the time passing and just start screaming. So instead we keep ourselves perpetually stunned with stimuli, thereby missing out on the very thing that we’re so scared of losing.”
Maybe the question isn’t what you’re missing when you don’t have your iPad, your iPhone and all the rest of your iDistractions on your iPerson. Maybe the real question is: what are you missing when you do?
Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.