Where Your Eyes Don’t Go

There is a place in your house so sinister, so terrifying, so mind-bendingly awful that dark fates befall anyone who goes there. Few are foolish enough to go there. Those foolish few are seldom seen again. Promise me that you wíll never go there. If you must go there, tells others where you are going, turn on all the lights and tie a rope to your ankles lest you be engulfed and disappear down the throat of madness.

I am speaking, of course, about that massive tangle of cables and wires behind your television. You have one. I have one. Every home in America has one — this writhing den of copper snakes, this mad tangle of serpents sheathed in white, yellow and blue vinyl.


It starts out innocently enough. You plug a TV into the wall. You attach a VHS player, then a DVD player. Next, a game console. Perhaps you have stereo components or surround sound. A BlueRay player and DVR. Your TV is connected to a cable for satellite. Your internet comes through here on a cable to your modem which is, in turn, tethered to your router, which is, ironically enough, the source of your wireless lifestyle.

How easily we forget the many miles of wire supporting our wireless lifestyles. I was reminded this weekend when replacing my modem. I got a new router for Christmas and then bought the modem with Amazon gift credit. The router installed easily in about 10 minutes the weekend prior. Last weekend, I installed the new modem.

Nightmare. I hooked up the modem, called the ISP with the new modem MAC address and then watched the lights on my modem steadily disappear. The next six hours were a progression of disconnecting modem, connecting router, reconnecting modem. Waiting for lights to turn amber, blink amber, then turn green, blink green then hopefully steady blue. It never worked. I tethered my laptop to the mess and gave the router my IP address, my router MAC address, my modem MAC address and an endless dance of other 8 digit codes. I called the router company twice. They spent 2 hours troubleshooting an insane sequence of plug, unplug, replug, unplug, plug. We never got it fixed. The router is somehow defective and won’t talk to the modem.

I spent six hours of my Sunday entangled by a frightening coil of wires that wanted my life and my sanity. I gave it both.

While working in this frightening mess, I recalled the conversation I had a few weeks earlier with the satellite TV installer. I asked if every house had such an obscene tangle of cords and cables. “I’ve seen much worse,” he told me. I think he was being nice.

Then, I asked the question I really wanted to ask. “Do you have such crazy pile of wire behind your TV? You probably have your wires organized nice and neat. Do you think I should spend the time organizing mine?”

He smiled. “It would take a mad scientist to unravel the wad of wires hiding in my house.”

For a moment, I felt better about myself. Then, I started thinking about the kind of mad scientist who might undertake such a thing. I got really, really scared.

Has anybody out there tamed the beast? Have you bothered organizing the wires behind your TV set? Better yet, anybody actually label those wires so you can easily tell which device they power?

Maybe I don’t want to know. The beast in my house is cleverly hidden where eyes do not go. Stay out of that corner. Do not go back there. Ever.

You have been warned.

Swimming in Media

Today I switched from limited basic cable TV to satellite TV. I went from having 13 channels I never watched to more than 140, of which I will probably mostly watch 13.

I still carry Netflix streaming service as well as the DVD by mail.

I have 17,111 songs in my iTunes library. I could listen to these songs continuously for 50 days straight without repeating once. I currently carry 3492 of these songs with me on my iPod. I have another 50 CDs to rip. I have accounts with Pandora, Last.fm and Spotify. I hope to get iTunes gift cards for Christmas so I can buy more music.

I have 325 apps on my iPad and 317 apps on my iPhone.  I downloaded 4 of these today and side-listed another 5 for possible future purchase.

I follow 19 different podcasts with 120 unlistened episodes.

I follow 147 blogs via Google Reader, FeedlerRSS and Flipboard. This does not include the articles I find from Twitter, Facebook and Zite.

There are 5 books stacked up on my Read This Next shelf along with 13 DVDs to watch. This does not include the dozen or so phantom eBooks sitting on my Kindle, Nook app and other readers.

At some point, this all seems a bit excessive. My experience is not typical. I know lots of people with more TV channels, multiple streaming services, more books, more DVDs and hugely larger iTunes libraries. This is more media than a person can consume in an entire lifetime and still it rolls in and I accept it gratefully.

I read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death a few months ago and worry sometimes that he is right to fret about our current trajectory. Maybe the surfeit of media represents an insatiable urge to be entertained and distracted. Maybe the lure of all this stuff is rotting our brains and diminishing our powers of focus and sustained seriousness. Maybe the inevitable outcome is a lethal level of amusement.

There is, I think, another possibility. Maybe this stuff makes us more powerful.

Our minds are made to process information and make new information. Our minds crave information and constantly seek input to synthesize new ways of understanding ourselves and our environment. Humans have never lived in a time so filled with sources of input. Our information reach is enormous and our powers of synthesis continue to grow. We were an oral culture, then a textual culture and then a visual culture. Our urge for story underlies all of these cultural ages. We need story. We crave story. We constantly create story and share with everyone who will listen.

Now our culture is oral and textual and visual and tactile. The sensory inputs are vast and our appetite for story expands to meet the opportunity of new technologies. We are awash in media, at times practically drowning in it and yet we find it is not enough. We are fed and we feed in turn. We take the raw materials of the TV shows, music, podcasts, blogs, books and apps and turn them into new thoughts, new perceptions, stories that help shape the way we understand our world. We will have to be open to new ideas about story and what story looks like. We will have to be open to a generous understand of what creativity looks like and recognize that all people are creative because being creative is an inherently human trait.

I am losing the sense of this post and see that I need more time to work through this idea. Case in point, of course. That is exactly what this blog is for — a place where I can work through my ideas aloud and hopefully get those ideas improved with the ideas and insights of others.

My question: Does the media deluge portend a sickness in our cultural soul, or are these the first manifest artifacts of a profound increase in our capacity to tell and share story?

Comments very welcome.