They are not your friends – Poetry as an antidote by Asa Boxer

Boxer, Asa by Jennifer Varkonyi

Asa Boxer. Foto di Jennifer Varkonyi

I’m not one to trust anyone trying to push something on me, so the idea of putting my confidence in a so-called “smart” phone, which–when you think about it–is actually a trojan horse full of pimps and panderers, is utterly alien to me. Further, the notion of working for the benefit of a piece of electronics is perverse. I mean the basic idea of a portion of one’s earnings going to support a machine that ought to be a slave is too inverted a relationship for me to indulge. So I don’t actually own a cell phone. I’m only willing to go as far as a tablet with wifi. And I’m better off for it.

Just the other day, our cell phone culture rounded a bend. The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency was accompanied by a diurnal, hourly hammering from nearly every app on the phone (in my case tablet). One did not have to be in a Borg suit to receive the quake of outrage and calls to action, which culminated in a mass shooting in Quebec and yet further outrage, apologies, messages of solidarity and calls to vigils. These ubiquitous peripheral devices were push-notfying, dinging, pinging, blooping, buzzing and humming–leveraging all the tools psychologically designed to make you incapable of not responding to the promptings and demands of the machine. It was all a bunch of groups and organisations and parties and corporations on a rampage of virtue signalling that grew so saturated, it felt the western world would burst into sugar.

It ocurred to me, seeing washed out faces everywhere lit up by phone-glow in the streets and metros, how sinister these devices had become in our culture. I mean, these phones had insinuated their way into our lives as friends: they faithfully told you when to sleep and when to rise, guided your diet and timed your exercise. They held all your memories, photos, contacts, notes, passwords, credit cards. Truly intimate in the rarest way, they were the only ones you took with to the toilet. They’d earned our trust some time back and now they were making their demands. But these things stalk you; they eavesdrop on you. They collude with the prying eyes of various authorities. They are not your friends.

Surely, what you keep your mind focused on, what you spend most of your time thinking about will effect your inward emotional state as well as the outward reality that takes shape in response to your attitudes and comportment. I expect most are familiar with a tormenting bout of circular thought, whether brought about by trauma, guilt or constitution. Traditionally, the prescription against such demons has been to read psalms, count prayer beads, meditate on a koan or passage of text, or intone a mantra. One of my strategies is to memorise poems. This activity keeps my memory sharp and my analytical mind alert. Most importantly, it keeps the apps at bay, those false friends, those voices that in their neediness and insecurity and through their simultaneous begging to be noticed and liked all at once, amplify their demands and directives. Resistance may be futile, but poetry is one of the best antidotes out there: so long as it isn’t activist poetry.

Asa Boxer


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