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The Apocalectric Blues

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Message Steven Doloff

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The Apocalyptic Blues


Is this "the promised end, " as it's referred to in King Lear? You'd think so if you watch the bereft, electronically disconnected (post-Sandy) souls wandering the streets of Manhattan below the power cutoff at 34th Street, staring into their dead cell phones, waiting, waiting.

     Or you might think so if you see the packs of energy vampires lugging all their electronic equipment around with them just above 34th Street, in search of available outlets with which to power up their otherwise dark, silent lives.

     They sprawl in bank ATM alcoves and across post office floors, tangled in wires, getting their electric fix for the day. Some have even found the outlets in the sidewalk that the large department stores use to light up their exterior Christmas decorations.

     I saw a sign today while walking down Fifth Avenue: "Recharging of mobile devices available inside church. Please enter at 3 West 29th Street." And maybe therein lies the truth of at least a piece of what we're going through now in the aftermath of Mega-storm Sandy.

     At this point in human history, we have all joined, and most devoutly believe in, the Church of the Ubiquitous Electron. And we are a sad lot indeed when circumstances beyond our control unplug us from the congregation.

     But does anyone really think that this collective disaster will lead to a serious re-evaluation of the dependency we have upon the daily, hourly stimulation from our Googlified matrix, upon the warm and intimate communion we have cultivated with the electric oversoul that rounds our waking lives? Will we glean some pregnant warning from all this that there are precincts of the soul that actually require unmediated sensation, direct human interaction, the full "be-here-now" experience for our fundamental psychic well being? Will we discover in this momentary void of internet silence our latter-day Walden moment?

     Don't be silly. We'll get, rather, better-insulated power stations and longer lasting batteries. We'll get a promise from the Archbishop of Con Edison of a new fiber-optic covenant with its consumer-congregation, declaring that this magnitude of electric catastrophe shall not be visited upon us again. And a rainbow emanating from the top of the Empire State Building will be its sign.

     Walt Whitman once wrote, "I Sing the Body Electric" in reference to the joyous, innate, organic energies of human awareness. How could he know what new technological universe that expression might ironically implicate some 150 years later. And how could he know the despair of those who, one day, by an act of an old-fashioned God, find themselves bounced from the choir?




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Steven Doloff is a professor of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute in New York City. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, and The Chronicle of Higher (more...)
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