February 8, 2018


I'll bet you don't even notice them any more.  They're everywhere.

There's a run-down Citgo station on my way to work.  I prefer to get my gas there, even though it's rural and the price is higher, given the lack of proximate competition.  The pumps were fitted with primitive debit card readers eons ago.  The buttons are hard to push, and often it won't read my card and I have to go inside.  The gas trickles out when I'm in a hurry.  The windshield squeegee receptacle is always out of soap.

I fuel up there whenever possible, because they have not installed a TV screen at the gas pump.

BP and Shell and Quality and Kangaroo have all put them in, and they're at eye level and loud, so that eight-second clips and bytes of sports and entertainment news and weather forecasts begin the moment the pump begins dispensing gasoline.  The screens and their backlit call to conform can only be avoided by staring pointedly away into the distance, determined not to look or listen, a one-woman protest against invasion and in support of returning to the time of people having to contend with spending two minutes of their lives not being entertained by external stimuli.

We've forgotten how.  Not the kids, who have never even known how.  The adults.  Us.  We've done this to ourselves, and we're doing it to them.  They don't know how to think without having most of it done for them, because we've indulged in the easing of that burden and gradually reaped an inability to tolerate being on stand-by, thinking, observing, connecting with others, forming our own escape from boredom using our minds.  They inherit this from us.  From the Blu-Ray screens in our minivans.  From screens on the backs of headrests in planes.  From the games loaded on their iPads and from borrowing our phones.

The screens have us.  Orwell was spot-on.

There are restaurants that P.J. and I don't eat at because TV screens are hung everywhere.  There is nowhere you can sit that doesn't include a direct or peripheral view of a screen.

I have my car serviced at a dealership.  There is a small section of the waiting area that is around the bend from the blaring television, and I'm always the only person sitting in that section, in defiance of the comfort they've provided customers to make it through the long wait for their cars to be ready.  I've considered bringing ear plugs because they sometimes show Dora the Explorer for the kids.  I read a book.  It's a more acceptable escape.

When I'm pumping gas at one of the screen stations, instead of staring pointedly into the distance, I sometimes watch the other people pumping gas.  Almost all of them are staring at the pumps, transfixed and oblivious.

I want to make eye contact with someone who isn't watching his screen, who is intentionally looking elsewhere, refusing to be drawn in, holding another one-man protest.  To give him a little smile, a connection, and let him know that I, too, notice the smell of gasoline and the breeze on my cheek and the chatter of the kids holding their dad's hand as they cross the parking lot and clutching candy in the other hand.  The world around us.  Broadcasting live.

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