The television emits a light that bathes them in blue. Eyes fixed, brain captive, conscious to their surroundings but just barely. Adrift in the digital fog. Scenes connecting to memory fragments, memories vacillating in place – forward then back, back then forward, and over again in moments outside time. Visceral reactions to formulaic stimuli, the contentment of connecting across the plugged-in divide. Near and far, all at the same time. This is the only place that will ever be home.
In the periphery, a pulsating buzz then a ring. Again, repeated and growing in intensity. Again, and Again, and Again. Their connection to home gets broken. The room they inhabit comes into view, the present made manifest. The sound creates a sense of urgency, or expectation, requiring immediate attention. A new message, a notification, a reminder, a request for action. A critical lifeline to the outside world beckons. A cold sweat develops on their brow. They scroll and act, read and react, watch and judge. Soon there is nothing else needing to be done, they continue on regardless, acting without thinking – muscle memory, autopilot mind.
Their attention turns back to home, slipping from one fog to another, quickly, head continuously swiveling back and forth, seeking constant stimulation to stave off ennui and boredom. Their attention is constantly divided between two mediums, each demanding attention, and nothing in return. Suddenly, surprisingly, they turn it all off, confront their world as it really is, from the outside looking in.
They wander the streets, walking alone, observing, searching for other signs of life being lived free of constraining walls and devices. Walking and peering into open windows. Zombies trapped in the glow. Walking and peering. Blue light sneaking through tiny gaps in shades and curtains. Walking and peering. Attention locked, faces signaling awe, the greater world doesn’t exist. Walking and peering, their attention turns to the streets, looking for signs of life. The sidewalks are vacant, the streetlights dim. A steady stream of gig workers shuttle people from place to place. Driver focusing on the road, passing time, minding their own business. Passenger staring into a digital void, ignoring conversation. Two people going to the same place, inhabiting the same space, but alone, searching for something to ease the passing of time.
This is the freedom promised to them when they received a casual pat on the head in encouragement, won their first trophy, tried for something and failed, came to terms with their own limitations, looked at themselves in the mirror and saw something they couldn’t recognize, decided to take a stand and change their mind the next day, stop regretting and accept, love, buy without remorse, and discard with joy. The freedom to tune out or in, to never be present. To live vicariously through others, or an idealized version of self filtered through the beautiful blue light of ever-present media, always free, always on, waiting for them, all the time.