I rode the City of New Orleans from Chicago to the Big Easy. I had splurged, purchasing a single sleeping cabin. The cabin came with a window, so that I could lie in my bunk and watch the backyards of Tennessee and Louisiana pass by. Traveling alone means there is no one to whom I can turn to say, “Did you see that?” So I wrote a letter to someone I knew would understand my excitement to be aboard a legendary passenger train. That resulted in an epiphany that has left me unsettled ever since. I was viewing the world through the equivalent of a large television screen. I had become an observer, a passive traveler. I distanced myself from the moment.
That distancing has become a cultural phenomenon for a generation oblivious to intellectual copyright. Troll YouTube and you will understand what I mean. Audiences are so busy filming the performance, they have put a screen between themselves and the live performance. Succumbing to the desire to be the one who posts and has hits and builds a reputation of being “there” relegates the live experience to another TV show.
McLuhan posited that the medium was the message. We have become observers not participants.