Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
Riding the Red Line this week, I ran into Bob Greene in the same place I've been running into him for 40 years — a hotel room. From the dateline on his op-ed in Tuesday's New York Times, this was a hotel room in St. Paul. As always, Greene was on the road, in a room that could have been anywhere, fanning some muse into a story. The subject of this musing was the small purplish mesh bag sitting on the bedspread.
Compliments of the management, it contained various accouterments of a decent night's sleep: earplugs, a mask, a CD offering an expert's lecture on sleep techniques, even a spritzer bottle for soaking the pillows with a calming scent. "For years we have been told about the boundless possibilities of an open-all-day-and-all-night world, in which we can instantly connect with others around the clock and around the globe..." Greene meditated. "Yet in these nerve-jangling times, what we seem to really want, increasingly, is not 24/7 action and data, nor pride in our ability to endlessly multitask, but a night of sound, uninterrupted slumber."
I took out my pen and wrote across the column, "This is a rich vein."
There's a lot more to quarry than reflections on sleep. The larger subject is the yearning to disconnect. How many millions of people have crawled out on an electronic limb and now want their old lives back? But they can't crawl back and they're afraid to jump.
The cover story of the most recent New York Times Magazine was "The End of Forgetting" by Jeffrey Rosen. It announced, "Legal scholars, technologists and cyberthinkers are wrestling with the first great existential crisis of the digital age: the impossibility of erasing your posted past, starting over, moving on."
A suburban Saint Louis woman, now a wife and mother, sued Girls Gone Wild for distributing, without her consent, a video that showed her tank top being pulled down in a Saint Louis bar. It was taken when she was 20. She just lost the suit.
When I lost my cell phone a few weeks ago I wasn't concerned, because I didn't use it that much anyway. But the other day I missed a train to Michigan and had to call someone immediately, and pay phones were almost impossible to find along South Michigan Avenue. There turned out to be one, just one, in the lobby of the Hilton. So I need a new cell phone whether I want it or not. Never try to reason with progress. When its mind is made up, nobody tells it what to do.
I have high hopes for journalism because I believe that sooner or later people will decide they want the world to leave them alone a little, and they will give journalism back its old job of standing at the door deciding who and what gets in.
And maybe the first sign of this, as Greene suggests, is people thrown up in strange hotel rooms ready to be tutored in a good night's sleep.