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Lost In The Personasphere
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I was with my kids at Zuma beach, in Malibu1. It was night. We were alone. A full moon had risen over the Pacific. As far as you could see into a scrim of mist and scattered light, a succession of breakers rolled up the beach, cresting and cresting again, throwing crowns of silvery foam before them, and under the wide sky the air was still and the sound of the waves was the only sound there was. We found ourselves suspended in a kind of ancient quiet that is supposed to be impossible in Southern California. It sometimes sneaks up on you anyway, embraces you and makes your blood rise and your skin suddenly cool, and with the moon shadows all around us I turned to son and daughter to share the unexpected moment.
And when I turned I caught their faces in the glowâ€”in the glow of their flipped-open cell phones, which they were tapping furiously with their thumbs. They were sending text messages.
I don't know what messages they were texting, or which of their thousands of acquaintances Hublot Big Bang Replica they were texting; I'm not even sure when I started using "text" as a verb. I don't think they were trying to capture in words the magic of the moment and the place, and to send the words coursing through the ether to share their awe and joy with distant friends. They had left the beach and that boring old moon behind, in spirit if not in body. They were both of them elsewhere, lost in their private persona spheres of unending communication. The persona sphere is where more and more of us spend our time, oblivious to what's happening right in front of us.
My first glimpse of the persona sphere came several years ago at a county fair. It was like all county fairs, an all-American overload of colored lights and hurdy-gurdy noise and questionable smells. I'd always thought it was an experience that nobody could be bored by. Then I saw a gaggle of four teenage girls walking together along the midway. They were yacking away, as teenage girls, you might have noticed, sometimes doâ€”but they were yacking into their cell phones. Walking four abreast, they were huddled in their persona spheres, each in her customized bubble, talking to someone who was far away instead of the friends that plan or chance had placed beside her. They were lost not only to one another but to the noise and color around them.
Since then, the appliances that furnish a persona sphere have grown in number and complication. Walk down any city street and you'll see people deploying one gadget or another to construct their bubble, ignoring the nearby in favor of the faraway. Here comes a kid talking excitedly into a cell phone, followed by a businessman calling up a webpage from his iPhone, followed by an office hack3 scrolling through the messages on his Treo. Meanwhile, life erupts all over the place, unnoticed. If this were a just world, I'd get to see at least one of these busy people walk into a lamppost or fall through an open manhole, the way people used to do in silent movies. They never do, though, at least not while I'm around. This must not be a just world.
But it is a very distracted oneâ€”though maybe distraction isn't the fitting word. A distraction isPatek Philippe Watches
supposed to be something that draws you away from immediate experience, pulls your attention from the matter at hand. The personasphere involves experience once removed, pressed
through a piece of hardware; in the personasphere, immediate experience is the distraction, an annoyance that takes you from the now-primary business of texting, phoning or websurfing. Faced with the real world, we draw our personaspheres over us like a cloak against the cold.
I'm a silver-lining guy, as my friends will tell you, always searching for the upside in any given situation, so I'll mention one nice thing about this cocooning, this withdrawal of everyone into his own personasphere: It has served to prove the techno-utopians wrong once again. From the dawn of the Internet through the coming of the Wi-Fi era, the Utopians told us that technology would pull us together and restore a common life to a fragmented culture.
We can see how mistaken they were. Consider the man lost in his personasphere, at dinner, on a bus, in an elevator, scheming into a cell phone or tapping a message on his BlackBerry. If technology has brought him closer to distant friends it has also made it easier to detach him from those near at hand. As his world expands, it shrinksâ€”roughly to the size of his busy, excitable, unutterably lonely self.
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