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It's getting harder these days
to tell the crazy people from the sane,
what with technology the way it is.

It used to be that talking to yourself
in public was a sure sign of instability,
like wearing a sign that said,
"Steer clear of me, I'm not quite right,
I might be dangerous, if only to myself."

But now we all do it, carry with us
an invisible chorus of voices
in a magic Bluetooth cloud, insistent, demanding
voices clamoring for attention, screening out
the real world around us, making us each
more dangerous than twenty actual crazy people,
a more present threat to public safety than
any potential suicide bomber.
Or at least more annoying.

Thorazine does nothing at all to fix it.

The implications of eye contact have changed too.
It used to be that when someone looked at you
when they spoke, it meant they were talking to you.
Not anymore. This morning as I was walking the dog,
I heard the rasp of a window being shoved open,
and a shrill voice saying, "I told you
last time what was going to happen."
I looked up to see a head and shoulders push out
a fourth-floor window, and the person
was looking right at me. "What?" I called up,
thinking that Ella and I had been mistaken
for someone else, maybe someone who hadn't
cleaned up after a mess on the sidewalk.
"Oh, I'm on the phone," said the smiling head,
pointing to its ear, and carried on talking
in the same tone of voice, as if both
conversations were one. And maybe they were.
I still don't know.

Crazy, right? I'll say!

But I was talking about people's voices.
Not the ones they speak with, but the ones
they hear in their heads, the ones no one else
can hear. I don't have a Bluetooth earpiece,
but I still hear voices in my head. Often
when I have something important I need to say
to someone, I rehearse the conversation
in my head, and sometimes, during my lines,
I'll slip and speak them out loud. Or more often,
when I'm remembering an awkward interaction
from earlier that day and thinking how
I could have said something better,
I'll just say it that better way, it just pops out,
and I might be driving, or walking
down the street, or lying in bed with my wife,
and I know I've just said something out loud,
out of the blue, out of nowhere, out of left field.
I'm busted. And my wife will
put down her magazine and give me that look,
you know the one, the one that's half amused,
half worried, the one that says,
"Are you crazy, husband?"
And maybe I am, I don't know.

No, of course not. I do it all the time too.

But I was trying to talk about how hard it is
to tell the sane people from the crazies
these days. Personally I think cell phones
are just an excuse. All this time
most of us have just been passing,
and now we don't have to pretend anymore.

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William Shunn

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on November 10, 2010 2:54 PM.

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