“Sometimes I don't want to see the puppeteers, sometimes I just want to see the magic therein, and sometimes I just want to pry open the atoms and know why they spin.”
Standing in line, it’s hard to resist the impulse to pull out a phone or iPod and simply noodle the time away. It comes, I guess, from the instinct that’s been driven into us since we first set foot in school: to make the best use of our time. The line is a model of organized inefficiency, fully realized. Our search for productive alternatives to standing becomes a quest for meaning, transforming our web-enabled gadgets into a lifeline to the outside.
It’s a reality that I can’t comprehend. I’m stuck on a dilapidated phone that can’t understand the web. I pine for the escape offered by swanky 3G handsets, bitterly ruing the limitations before me, lamenting the sorry state of the bank account that keeps this wish out of reach.
Standing in a 15-person line at CostCo, shopping cart full of processed snack foods and individually frozen meats, it becomes clear how many of my peers buy into the escape. iPhones, Droids, and all other manner of chatty, touch-beckoning beveled squares dominate the landscape. Fingers swipe and prod and pinch incessantly, impatiently, at invisible items. Those who haven’t cut visual ties with the world are lost in an auditory sea of seclusion, signified by the cords that dangle from their ears and the slight sway that dominates their bodies.
And just ahead of me is a little girl who exists outside all of this.
She seems to be about five or six. I’m terrible with ages, but I can’t imagine she’s out of the first grade. While everyone is off playing with their toys, she’s whirling madly about in place. She twirls and twirls about, stopping every few revolutions to stare vacantly into space. A sweet, goofy smile melts over her face every time. I can imagine that she’s enjoying the sight of the world reeling in front of her. A few moments later, she starts up again, giggling, as she gyres into a whirlwind of energy and youth. She constructs joy from the barren landscape around her. As a counterpoint to everyone who is busy reaching out to a walled garden of information, reaching out to a community that is paradoxically open and exclusive, she reaches inwards and projects herself for all the world to see. And she does so with absolute grace and certainty.
I look back over the crowd, bathed in a 3:2 pallid glow, in awe at how the imagination of a child can trump industries that pull in billions of dollars. I can only guess to what kind of arabesque twists the sea before me could accomplish, if they could only make better use of their little inconveniences.