Monday, February 25, 2013

Winter Walk

Urbanization might be described, functionally, as the concentration of many people on relatively small areas of land. The process changes the subjectively-felt environment. What we call nature falls into the background; other people come to the fore and, indeed, come to saturate perception. Animals more or less disappear, so does green (unless we are in Central Park). The sky is there but does not naturally get our attention because weather (unless linked with the word “warning”) is unimportant. Superimpose high-speed electronic communications on this urban scene of highways and built structures. Next, miniaturize the devices so that even those out jogging (I see them every time I’m out on my these days infrequent walks) are having sound pumped into earphones or images to handheld devices they consult as they run. The other day I saw a woman wrestling two big dogs on leashes, one on either side of a baby carriage, while trying—despite a jerking dog—to see the image on her cell-phone screen. All right. Animals are still present; reproduction still goes on. A little later I saw a dog sometimes allowed to be outdoors—but this dog (and little flags planted into the snowy ground tell me so) has been trained to stay on that lawn by radio-controlled pain-delivering devices in its collar. The modern marvel even controls the dogs.

Yet everything looks ordinary, the superimposition of the New Age almost invisible. Okay. The joggers wear skin-tight suits of a fabric unthinkable in the 1950s. But the scene? Well, most of the houses around here date to the early teens and twenties of the last century, i.e., a time when Jules Verne had just recently departed. Near dusk I see the electronics in the houses—but only partially; they are lighted rectangles blocked by lampshades and artificial flower arrangements—signaling a kind of “life,” a little “warmth.”

In the 1950s science fiction dystopias projected all this much more dramatically. Unfortunate humans had alien-mounted control devices affixed to the back of their necks. People lived in cubicles and watched Big Brother’s face on the screen. Active book-burning took place at a temperature of exactly 451° F. The odd long pods those people are carrying furtively into the garage? They are your double and mine—and when they break out of their brown chrysalides we will be replaced by obedient look-alikes. The 1950s enemy was always “out there” somewhere. And, if Mulder and Scully had it right, so was “the Truth.”

Yet very often, even in wonderful weather, I walk all alone—almost as if in a landscape entirely scoured of people. A few cars pass now and then. But these days, what with the self-driving car now officially permitted to roam on the West Coast, how do I know that there are people in them? Maybe the end times have come, I sometimes think, with a faint shudder. What if I am? What if I am one of the left behind?


  1. Clones moan; but drones can roam...

  2. Here's hoping the renewal of spring brings a little lightness and cheer to your suburban walks, Arsen!

    Nice rhyming comment, Brigitte.


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