Sunday, February 21, 2010

Electronic Tethers

The other day when I was in a meeting, I couldn't help but notice how many times certain people were distracted by their electronic devices. The rate was at least 10 times per hour for one guy. He'd even stop mid-sentence when he had the floor to see who was calling/texting/emailing him. This kind of shit bugs me to no end, whether it be in a meeting, a conversation driving to a race, or during a meal in a restaurant. It not only bugs me when people I'm interacting with are thusly distracted, but even when total strangers at the table next to me are talking to people a hundred miles away. So if I got this right, you take your wife out to dinner supposedly for quality time, but still talk shop with somebody not even at the table? I think conference rooms and restaurants should be constructed as Faraday cages, effectively rendering all wireless devices useless upon entry.

Psychologists have various theories about this phenomenon that pervades our society. Some suggest wearing a device that demands our immediate attention makes us feel important. It used to be very rude to interupt somebody when they were speaking, yet now we stop mid-sentence when somebody electronically hails us. There has been a shift in etiquette. Back in the day, a Rolodex was the symbol of importance. Then electronic devices took center stage, such as pagers, mobile phones and Blackberries. Now everybody has a crackberry. Except me. I don't feel any less important. In fact, I feel free.

The jury is still out on whether this level of connectedness is good or bad. I do stay in near daily email contact with my mother. I had less contact with her before email became common. This is not a bad thing.  But some say replacing face to face interaction with distance messaging is unhealthy. You lose the art of conversation. You can learn so much more about people through their whole person than through the sterile electronic medium. We become connected yet isolated at the same time. One article I read says we've become "a nation of hyperconnected hermits."

This brings me to music. Folks love discussing their play lists these days. I'm a complete outsider on this subject. I have never owned a MP3 player. I have never downloaded a tune from the web. My wife knows way more about this than I do.  As an outsider evesdropping into all this playlist discussion, I get the impression that some people construct play lists purely on how other people will critique them. Do you really like all the music you suck down into that MP3 thingy? Or do you think it will impress your friends?  I suppose a playlist could be construed as some sort of work of art. From that perspective, I can't really knock it. In this light, different tunes are really no different than the chords that make up a specific song. But I think something more vain is going on here, maybe something akin to wearing the latest designer clothing. It is constructing a facade, the way you want the world to perceive you.

I have always been a utilitarian when it comes to clothing. Clothes keep me from being naked (and protect the public), they protect my skin when performing certain hazardous activities, and this time of year they keep me from freezing to death. That's it. I don't try to define who I am by carefully crafting my wardrobe. Likewise, I couldn't care less what other people think of the music I enjoy.

New music that gets my attention these days comes out of the folk singer/songwriter realm. This includes a number of female artists and male artists like Eddie Vedder.  I like that raw, unprocessed accoustic sound.  Last night after some good Thai food, Cathy and I went to see Liz Longley and Paula Cole. They performed at Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, NH. This venue seats about 200 people. We sat about 6ft from the center mic.  Liz will certainly hit the big-time, a vocally gifted singer/songwriter still attending Berkley School of Music. She hasn't been tainted by big-label producers and fame yet. Paula made the big-time in the 90's and is working on new music again. She sang some choice material from an album that will be released later this year. Small venues like this are great. Both performers encouraged a lot of two-way interaction with the audience. Cathy and I saw Shawn Colvin here a few months ago, and we plan to go back more often.

Paula with guitarist Kevin Barry and percussionist Ben Wittman

So is there a tie-in with cycling here somewhere? When I ride, the last thing in the world I want to hear is my cell phone or some MP3 thingy jamming sounds into my ears. Riding off road far away from cars is even better. This time of year, all you may hear is wind in the pines, cascading water in the streams, and occasional crows or hawks. More importantly, you can hear your own thoughts.  Your mind becomes untethered, free to think new thoughts.  It is a time to be unshackled from the everyday world that demands our continuous attention. 


DaveP said...

I love it! Er, hold on a sec....cell phone is ringing. Anyway, great post.

solobreak said...

I find it hard to believe that the guys who admit to having Rush on their playlists give two shits about what people think of them...

Luke S said...

Rush are musical geniuses. And I agree with you, I can't stand listening to music while doing athletic things, cycling, skiing, running, whatever. I find it dangerous, especially when running or cycling, if on the road, you can't hear traffic.

I'm with you on the cell phone thing, my phone barely sends or receives texts. But I am totally into my ipod, although playlists are beyond my desire for customization.

rick is! said...

totally agree. I get enraged when folks I'm meeting with will constantly check their blackberries. It's one thing when my client does it since he's paying me to sit there but anyone else...argh, so frustrating.

plum said...

I used to believe I needed the distraction of music to get through the monotony of really difficult events like TTs. Music really pumps me up during training, so I've always brought it along for the actual events as well, wanting that extra boost.

I have since discovered that it is really nothing more than a pacifier. On a number of occasions, I have found that my performance in no way changes when I have music, or I don't have it. In spite of my belief that it makes me faster and more motivated.

And incidentally, when I am working near/at/beyond the limit, it usually has the absolute opposite effect - I can't stand listening to music. A number of times on Wash I have ripped out my headphones, and when I ran a marathon I had the same experience. At that level of intensity for me it becomes a distraction.

For boring base miles, though, gotta have it.

+1 for Rush!

Dave said...

I have been riding without the gps for a while and am lovin it. Considering ditching the speedo. Don't have one on my new El Mariachi . Won't get one. Will soon regress to fixed gear. Tried a mp3 road riding. but 70 mph surprises at 2 feet nipped that idea. singletrack requires too much concentration. fear of death or dismemberment again.

Zenbiker said...

You are of course right about "electronic tethers" people use to choose to be elsewhere from the current moment. However, is it really all that different from planning your next training ride during that meeting in your head or checking your watch 5x during that meeting to make sure you are out the door in time to ride? Is that just another form of "distraction" to which we are all guilty? Are people who choose to identify with how they dress all that different from those of us who choose to identify with how fit we are or something as silly as setting a new PR on our favorite hillclimb? Aren't we all at our core suffering to varying degrees of the human condition together and just a little bit insane?

It's only on my good days when I leave the ipod, cell phone, power meter at home and just ride that maybe I realize part of me is not crazy. Part of me is right there, in the moment, noticing the sky and everything beautiful I pass, listening to my breathing and heartbeat. Embracing it all for what it is and wanting to be no where else, wanting no distractions. That's why we ride and maybe for a moment we leave all the insanity behind.