LOST IN THE PERSONASPHERE

FERGUSON, ANDREW

Casual LOST IN THE PERSONASPHERE I was with my kids at Zuma beach, in Malibu. It was night. We were alone. A full moon had risen over the Pacifi c. As far as you could see into a scrim of mist...

...Consider the man lost in his personasphere, at dinner, on a bus, in an elevator, scheming into a cellphone or tapping a message on his BlackBerry...
...We found ourselves suspended in a kind of ancient quiet that is supposed to be impossible in Southern California...
...Here comes a kid talking excitedly into a cell phone, followed by a businessman calling up a webpage from his iPhone, followed by an offi ce hack scrolling through the messages on his Treo...
...If technology has brought him closer to distant friends it has also made it easier to detach himself from those near at hand...
...I donít know what messages they were texting, or which of their thousands of acquaintances they were texting...
...They were lost not only to one another but to the noise and color around them...
...They were yacking away, as teenage girls, you might have noticed, sometimes doóbut they were yacking into their cell phones...
...Faced with the real world, we draw our personaspheres over us like a cloak against the cold...
...Since then, the appliances that furnish a personasphere have grown in number and complication...
...Walk down any city street and youíll see people deploying one gadget or another to construct their bubble, ignoring the nearby in favor of the faraway...
...And when I turned I caught their faces in the glow ó in the glow of their flipped-open cell phones, which they were tapping furiously with their thumbs...
...Walking four abreast, they were huddled in their personaspheres, each in her customized bubble, talking to someone who was far away instead of the friends that plan or chance had placed beside her...
...We can see how mistaken they were...
...Iíd always thought it was an experience that nobody could be bored by...
...ANDREW FERGUSON...
...From the dawn of the Internet through the coming of the Wi-Fi era, the utopians told us that technology would pull us together and restore a common life to a fragmented culture...
...I donít think they were trying to capture in words the magic of the moment and the place, and to send the words coursing through the ether to share their awe and joy with distant friends...
...My first glimpse of the personasphere came several years ago at a county fair...
...It sometimes sneaks up on you anyway, embraces you and makes your blood rise and your skin suddenly cool, and with the moon shadows all around us I turned to son and daughter to share the unexpected moment...
...Meanwhile, life erupts all over the place, unnoticed...
...A full moon had risen over the Pacifi c. As far as you could see into a scrim of mist and scattered light, a succession of breakers rolled up the beach, cresting and cresting again, throwing crowns of silvery foam before them, and under the wide sky the air was still and the sound of the waves was the only sound there was...
...It was like all county fairs, an all-American overload of colored lights and hurdy-gurdy noise and questionable smells...
...The personasphere involves experience once removed, pressed through a piece of hardware...
...Iím a silver-lining guy, as my friends will tell you, always searching for the upside in any given situation, so Iíll mention one nice thing about this cocooning, this withdrawal of everyone into his own personasphere: It has served to prove the techno-utopians wrong once again...
...Then I saw a gaggle of four teenage girls walking together along the midway...
...If this were a just world, Iíd get to see at least one of these busy people walk into a lamppost or fall through an open manhole, the way people used to do in silent movies...
...They had left the beach and that boring old moon behind, in spirit if not in body...
...This must not be a just world...
...A distraction is supposed to be something that draws you away from immediate experience, pulls your attention from the matter at hand...
...They were both of them elsewhere, lost in their private personaspheres of unending communication...
...They never do, though, at least not while Iím around...
...Iím not even sure when I started using ďtextĒ as a verb...
...They were sending text messages...
...But it is a very distracted oneó though maybe distraction isnít the fi tting word...
...in the personasphere, immediate experience is the distraction, an annoyance that takes you from the now-primary business of texting, phoning, websurfing ó being elsewhere...
...The personasphere is where more and more of us spend our time, oblivious, or at least inattentive, to whatís happening right in front of us...
...As his world expands, it shrinksóroughly to the size of his busy, excitable, unutterably lonely self...

Vol. 13 • June 2008 • No. 41


 
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