Last month, a Wisconsin man became particularly enraged by a Bristol Palin performance on Dancing with the Stars and shot his television. The dancing stopped. The police showed up. And after a fifteen hour standoff, the man was taken into custody.
The event brought back memories of Elvis who was famous for shooting TVs. But that was a different era. The days of engineering an effective television shooting will soon be over. Like the rest of us, Elvis would by now have succumbed to the dominance of his targets. And law enforcement will soon realize they no longer need to come to their defense. There’s no point.
The screens have us outnumbered.
My wife and I recently made a pact to turn off our screens from the time we get home until the time our kids go to bed. We set this goal after years of talking to our kids over the tops of our laptops and hearing my two year old daughter once say, “Goodnight Mama, goodnight dadda, goodnight ‘puter.”
So the screens remained off, for awhile. A short while. My kids like to listen to music and have dance parties in our living room. So I need to turn on the music. And guess where all my music is? On my laptop — where its accompanied by my email, Twitter, Facebook, work, realtime web stats and social life. The music plays, the laptop is back open, and they’re playing our song once again.
On some nights we want to order dinner. So we check the menu on our computer and then call the restaurant on our iPhones where our addiction is waiting for us on another screen. Or maybe the kids want to watch a nice movie before bed. No problem, let me just sit down at my desktop machine and queue something up on that screen so we can watch it on our other screen.
At bedtime, maybe a nice interactive book on the iPad?
I don’t wear a watch, so even a simple question like “What time is it?” means another screen needs to be pulled out of my pocket.
My friend Norman is an avid golf fan. During major events, Norman used to answer the phone by saying, “Don’t tell me anything about the golf, I’m recording it.”
But even Norman, who has experienced the familiar evolution from self-proclaimed luddite to iPhone zombie in the last couple years, has given up trying to avoid the results of major golf tournaments. It’s become almost impossible. The information is everywhere. The screens will not relent.
The other day I was standing in line a bagel store and I counted seven screens (phones, flatscreen TVs, computers) within my clear line of site. Thankfully, none of my fellow customers could read my mind as I thought to myself, “There are seven screens. Don’t most guns only hold six bullets?”
The dominance of the screens is only beginning. The big question is how we’ll react to their increasing numbers. I have long thought that our current addiction is connected to the novelty of this expanding technological playground. Once we get used the screens and the always-on access they provide, we’ll be better equipped to compartmentalize them. We’ll use screens when we need them and let them go black when we don’t.
But the more I see the growing number of screens and the behaviors of those who stare at them, the more I think the future may be less about compartmentalization and more about total immersion.
NYT tech journalist Nick Bilton recently wrote about early adopters who are, like my wife and me, trying to place limits on their screen time.
Other friends — technology enthusiasts all — have told me they have set new rules with their spouse or partner. Some have agreed to no mobile phones in bed or on the couch, while others try to leave the gadgetry in their pockets when they go for brunch or dinner.
That’s our big stand against the screens. We get to keep brunch.
Hopefully this is just a period of transition and we will indeed be able to maintain our screen-free meals. But just in case, my reaction to technology will remain nonviolent. I don’t want to look up one day and see a battalion of angry screens who say: “Hey, aren’t you the guy who shot the television?”