One of my habits is stopping at McDonald’s on my way to work for a drink and a few minutes of quiet reading. I get up pretty early, a little after five, and I’m usually in my booth before six with drink in hand and book before me. I was never a ‘morning person,’ not really, but I have adapted well to this practice and find my mind sharpest right out of the gate at the start of the day – which means I grow increasingly slow and befuddled as the day wears on.
The other day I went into McDonald’s without my book. (I’m currently reading Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Christianity for Modern Pagan’s, in which he interacts with a large selection of Pascal’s Pensees, and I am enjoying it very much.) However, the next section was pretty long and I didn’t feel like I had time to start it. So, I thought I’d go get my drink, watch some soundless CNN on the flatscreen TV, and then head into work.
Well, of course, this was the day the flatscreen wasn’t operational. Actually, to be accurate, the flatscreen seemed fine, but there was nothing on it to watch, only a simple text message congratulating me or the restaurant or someone for having a dish, much good it was doing me not turned on, however. So I sat there, drinking, annoyed that the thing wasn’t working the one day it was my express intent to watch it.
That set me thinking about the curious phenomenon of TV’s multiplying in restaurants around the country. I guess it isn’t such a new thing, as lots of Bar & Grill type places have had TV’s for years, and a lot of casual restaurants and fast food places have followed suit. And yet, it is striking if seen from a certain point of view, and I sat their wondering at exactly what point it was decided that the time it took to wolf down a Big Mac was now entirely too long to go without television?
The world used to be full of quiet places, by which I don’t just mean literally quiet, but lacking in sound and visual diversion. These places are disappearing, and while this isn’t all bad, as no doubt there are any number of places where the tedium of waiting has been curbed a bit (like say, an airport waiting area), it is a trend that will have cost, I think. I’m not anti-technology, but I think sometimes that all the gadgets and gizmos that now travel so lightly and so easily wherever we go, are cutting into our intellectual capacities, not just our spare time. We are constantly being entertained and preoccupied, a fundamentally passive experience, and the impetus to think and reflect, even carry a good book to read, is decreased year by year.
At present, there are still many quiet places, even if one has to know where to look to find them. I wonder how long they will remain so?