A plague is upon this city. The disease of which I speak is more insidious than the influenzas and malaise darkening the bleakest Chicago winter; it is the subtle tyranny of the technology we carry as entertainment each day. Devices once considered bourgeois conveniences have, bit-by-bit, redefined acceptable public behavior and, far worse, enslaved us to their constant application. For what are these mp3 players and Bluetooth phones now except intellectual-deprivation tanks of perpetual distraction?
Have we become so trivial that we no longer find worth in the contents of our own thoughts? Do we, like spoiled children, require the constant diversion of trinkets and baubles, the prime function of which serves but to distract from the beauty of a summer day? Thoreau said, “What is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry… or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen?” An unsettling percentage of the American populace walk the city streets in a fog; the white-collar commuter, already dulled from hours at a desk, numbed further by the constant hum of self-selected white noise; the cyclists—for the love of god, the cyclists—who endanger their very lives by blotting out the roar of automobiles piloted by fools who devote one third of their feeble attention span to the trajectory of their vehicle and the rest to phones pressed fast to their ears.
But yeah, I say the day has come to pull these gadgets from our auditory canals, not only in the name of self-preservation, but for the pleasures of the urban serenade itself; the thrilling rhythms pounded on buckets along Michigan Avenue, the steel-drum bands in Humboldt Park, the greeting of neighbor to neighbor on the sidewalks and thoroughfares. And should a passer-by not offer the first nod, to be alert and engaged enough to do so oneself. For why dwell in the city if not to seek out the society of one’s fellow man? How are we to unite our affections if we exist forever isolated within our text messages and playlists? My fellow Midwesterners: we are not like the West Coast auto-drone, shackled to the confines of our personal vehicle—nor are we the cold-eyed New Yorker, whose anxious gaze does not extend beyond the perimeter of his own skull. We are Chicagoans, whose broad shoulders cower not against the fullness of the world! The time has come to declare independence from the tyranny of our entertainments; let us pocket our iPods, our Blackberries, our portable DVD players and witness with clear eyes the sunrise of a new day! (Sharon Hoyer)