The Sea Outside

Frame from The Sea Inside.

What is a pair of headphones, but a contraption that induces pleasure? And not only the head-mounted device induces euphoria, but, more importantly, it explicitly intends so. One may argue that it is a bogus notion to speak of intention when agency is implied for an inanimate conglomerate of plastic and silicon. The said complainant may be more at ease if intentionality is shifted to the wearer of the portable vibration generation device. Or is it whoever picked the device from the shelf, albeit a digitally reincarnated holding place on the web, that is entitled to the credit of intending to convert fluctuations of ether into a mechanical massage?

Spotify intends to be endeared by its clientele. In essence, the very survival of that establishment is inherently tied in with its bank account receiving the monthly jolt of $9.99 from each and every client. And the legal entity takes elaborate steps in order to make sure that the stream of cash never receded, but instead grows into a flood that on its way may devastate the competitors. Such an incident is but a five star nod to the stock market to quench its thirst off of pieces of paper that denote, as well as electronic representations of, ownership.

What a frenzy of intellectual orgy it would cause on Mars, when through the analysis of the ether that has circumscribed the Earth they recognize that earthlings trade mechanical pleasure for time spent in the cubicle.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, is another masterpiece by the learned spearhead of documenting the context of human life through a lens that never fails to be sober and intriguing at the same time that it is intimate with the subject. From the burning fields of Lessons of Darkness to the fractured prehistoric palm prints in the Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog has depicted many peculiarities of human existence while his distinct narrations complement the simultaneous absurdity and intimacy of the scenery. Somewhere in Lo and Behold Herzog spends time with people who are wary of electromagnetism and, henceforth, have taken refuge in the electronic silence of the isolated area around a deep space telescope. Another less fortunate victim of Maxwell’s Equation had resorted to living in a Faraday Cage in the past in order to fend off the invisible flames.

The individuals in the documentary are afraid of the electromagnetic waves that they suspect are the prime causes for their irregular symptoms and ailments. The notion of a wave, however, may bring to mind directionality and selectivity. A wave originates at one location and reaches a circumference before dying out in the spaces that matter leaves unoccupied. The current situation is distinctly different, however. For one, contemporary “waves” are generated everywhere and they are consumed in many places simultaneously. Moreover, the attempt to draw parallels between the state of the electromagnetic bubble that has engulfed the planet and a lake might bring into a novice mind the image of a secluded pond that is generally calm except when it is perturbed by a passing floating object. On the contrary, the ether of electromagnetism oscillates until one source stops transmitting, immediately upon which another strong shockwave will shake the space.

In effect, every digital device that is hooked up to the web constantly vibrates it and is in return vibrated by it until batteries run out on one or both sides.

I am comfortably seated on one of the red seats of the Toronto underground system, while the other half of the passengers grudgingly shifts from one foot to another and groan when the female PSA voice announces a delay because of “injury at track level“. I have my Bluetooth headphones on. They are connected to my phone through a two-way field of electromagnetic pulses which brushes against my skin and also the inside of my body. The duo’s dance is complemented by my smart watch, which itself has established a two-way communication channel with my phone. I am listening to music on the headphones, thus utilizing the phone-to-headset connection. Additionally, I can switch away from We Appreciate Power by Grimes to Istanbul by DJ Pantelis Bossa either by flicking the tiny button on the exterior of the right-side headphone or through interacting with an app on my watch. Either way, the said device notifies my phone of my will through the medium of the electromagnetic field that my body is awash with.

And then there is everyone else around me. Presently, I am surrounded by seven people. One has been staring out of the window since we embarked. Another is peeking into the screen of her companion’s phone. The five others are fervently pounding on their phones. And as if this is not enough, the person on my right just pulled out a second handset from his leather messenger bag and interacted with it momentarily before returning to his other device.

What are these devices, the smart phones, the smart watches, the headsets, and the plethora of other digital beings that shape our lives these days? Are these but mechanical interfaces that allow flesh to interact with electromagnetism? Pleasure inducing devices that convert the superposition of sinusoidal waves into rushes of hormones.

I want to delve deeper into these thoughts, but Dundas Station is approaching and I need to pack up and step into the Winter. I put on my toque, secure my headphones back on top of my skull and turn up the volume so as to let the pleasant vibrations penetrate through the extra layer that is to shield my neurons against the harshness of the winter. A minute later, I let The Watchers by Jean-Michel Jane turn my walk on Queen East into a stroll along the unending lines of trees in my very personal heaven.

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