A Brief Reflection on Surfaces
Smartphones, personal screens permanently before our eyes, offering continuous and virtually infinite varieties of stimulation, are the fulfillment and vindication of our slightly clunky old metaphor for internet use, “web-surfing.”
To surf is to ride the ocean’s surface, to skim excitingly along on transient and ever-changing waves which, in their momentary violence and extreme proximity, foster illusions of ultimate importance. Meanwhile, the ocean’s depths, almost fathomless and roiling with currents so profoundly grand and global that they may be mistaken for motionless placidity — which in the modern psyche indicates boredom — remain unobserved and effectively non-existent, from the perspective of the inveterate and addicted surface dweller, the “surfer.”
This is the meaning and social purpose of our ubiquitous and increasingly convenient and portable digital devices. They keep us all on that surface of life, persuading ourselves with increasing ease that a moment without the screen before our eyes is a moment’s missed opportunity for amusement, information, stimulation. The world, to which we might have noticed we belonged, were we not so completely distracted, speaks in its fluid, eloquent baritone — and no one hears it. We hear only our own titters and giggles of excitement echoing back to us from the arm’s reach of immediacy that we mistake for life itself.