Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 August 2016
Perhaps it is a bad idea to watch Cyrano de Bergerac and Bridget Jones’ Diary while drinking copious amounts of alcohol, for the mind may take a funny turn down dark paths that it shouldn`t.
I think of Cyrano…
Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet (nobleman serving as a soldier) in the French Army, is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents.
In addition to being a remarkable duelist, he is a gifted, joyful poet and musician.
However, he has an extremely large nose, which is the reason for his own self-doubt.
This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful and intellectual heiress Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness denies him the “dream of being loved by even an ugly woman.”
I view my middle aged body and wonder: have I become Cyrano?
Have the ravages of middle age and middling neglect changed what once was a temple into an ancient unattractive amusement park?
I think of Bridget Jones, prior to discovering her Mark Darcy…
Solitary, accident-prone and worried…often thought to be a fool and vulgar, verbally incontinent and dresses like a parent…
Have I become Bridget Jones before her luck changed?
I am a married man, but the feelings of Cyrano and Jones lie under the surface.
So even if I had the courage to love, do I have the confidence?
When the embers have grown cold and distant, can the flames ever be rekindled with the one to whom you have pledged yourself?
I often wonder…
How do singletons of this modern age find love and happiness?
Friends console me in my isolation and suggest that I turn to social media for relief, but I wonder if social media helps…
Diagram depicting the many different types of social media (Wikipedia)
“Social media is often blamed for damaging the lives of teenagers and making them grow up too fast, but experts believe that social network sites have contributed to a fall in teenage pregnancy, because they have reduced face-to-face contact and the opportunities for sex.
Although many factors have contributed to the reduction in teenage pregnancies, such as better access to contraception, the availability of the-morning-after pill and education programmes in schools, the advent of social media has fundamentally changed how people communicate with one another.
Young people spend so much time interacting online that they have reduced the opportunities for sexual activity.
If a tablet is providing sufficient entertainment at home then people are less likely to go out and and find themselves in situations that can lead to unwanted pregnancy.
Technology has had a similiar effect on teenage drinking.”(Times, 10 March 2013)
So staying home and not going out protects a person from both the dangers of life as well as its delights.
I again think of Cyrano…
In spite of his heart´s yearnings for Roxane, it was easier to hide behind letters of passionate prose rather than risk rejection directly face-to-face.
And though French poet/dramatist Edmond Rostand (1868 – 1918) would have us believe that Cyrano`s love for Roxane is real, one can´t help wondering if Cyrano was more in love with his idea of who Roxane was rather than the reality of who Roxane was.
French playwright Edmond Rostand in the official uniform of the Académie française (Wikipedia)
For some, it is easier to hide behind inanimate communication rather than emerge embarrassed from stumbling about outside in full parade of the person we admire.
I too find myself able to communicate easier and more expressively with my wife in writing than trying to engage her in conversational combat she always manages to win.
So seek solace in conversation with friends of the same gender, your “mates”, your “pals”, I am advised.
Yet I wonder if the modern age we live in hasn´t hampered us even in this.
“Back in the old days, it was card games and endless banter on the numerous coach journeys to away matches.
Now, however, football´s young stars are locked in their own worlds with hoods up and headphones on.
Ronald Koeman, the 53-year-old Dutch manager of the Southampton Premier League football club, decided that his players spent so much time plugged into smartphones and social media that they had forgotten how to talk to each other on the pitch.
(Koeman has been managing Everton since June.)
Above: Ronald Koeman (Wikipedia)
Young players put on their headphones as soon as training is over.
They spend their time travelling to and from matches wrapped up in social media or playing games on their smartphones, barely talking to their teammates.
This is a far cry from Koeman´s days as a gifted defensive midfielder for the Dutch national team in the 1980s and 1990s when there was no digital entertainment to be had.
“When I was playing, we played cards on the coach when we went to matches, we talked and we had communication with each other.
Now everyone just puts on his headphones and is in his own world.
This is maybe one of the reasons they don´t talk any more on the pitch.
Communication on the pitch is so important even if it is just to help your teammates and say “time” or “turn”.
That´s so difficult now.
Now that has all changed.
Now for young players it is all about themselves and less about communications with the rest of the players.
To deal with this we do sessions in training, different exercises every week which are all about focus, communication and concentration.”
To tackle the problem, Koeman required the Southampton squad to take part in a weekly “life kinetics” session, at which players carried out two tasks simultaneously, such as passing a football and catching a tennis ball, while communicating with a teammate.”(Times, 12 April 2016)
Do we, the inheritors of this brave new world, need to be trained in how to interact with one another?
In my experience women generally seem to have little problems with conversing with each other, but men seem more reserved, more reluctant to openly discuss their emotions and inner thoughts with one another.
So perhaps the solution is to hang about venues where only men go?
Not so easy, as there are not so many places where a woman isn´t found.
Women argue that regular interaction between women and men teaches men how to conduct themselves in public and how to treat women privately.
“Charles Storey, graduate board president of Harvard´s Porcellian Club, one of six clubs that still do not admit women, wrote in a letter to Harvard´s student paper The Crimson:
“Forcing single-gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease, the potential for sexual misconduct.”
Massachusetts Democratic Representative Katherine Clark tweeted:
“Or, instead of blaming women, you could focus on teaching members of your club to NOT sexually assault people.”
Data from Harvard´s sexual assault prevention task force has found that of women who attend the all-male events and seniors who are members of female clubs, 47% reported having experienced nonconsensual sexual contact.
Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana said:
“The College has for many years made it clear that the behaviours and attitudes espoused by single gender social organizations remain at odds with the aspirations of the 21st century society to which the College hopes and expects our students will contribute.” (The Independent, 14 April 2016)
Have we become a society that no longer knows how to interact with reality?
Can we only interact with one another electronically?
How lonely this brave new world has become.
So in our loneliness we fear our individual solitude and immerse ourselves completely in digital divinity, seeking a heaven that demands our focus remain constant upon it.
For many, heaven means to gaze downwards rather than upwards.
For some, even a momentary parting from their electronics is painful, unthinkable, and so we find Pokémon pedestrians drifting into traffic while drivers text.
“Police in New York could soon be equipped with a “textalyser” to test whether erractic drivers have been texting while driving.
Under draft legislation under consideration, officers and troopers interviewing drivers after an accident could do so bearing a device that detects recent texts, calls or internet activity on smartphones.
Just as drivers are asked to blow into a breathalyser, on pain of having their licenses suspended, so officers could demand that motorists hand over their mobile phone for testing with a simple device that is being tested by a mobile phone forensics company.
The plan comes after a spike in deaths that threatens to reverse years of improvements in road safety.
Preliminary figures from the National Safety Council show an 8% rise in motor vehicle deaths in 2015, the largest rise in 50 years.
While the Council suggests that part of the increase is because of cheaper petrol prices, which led to more people on the roads, many have attributed the rise in fatalities to widespread use of smartphones.
The latest figures from the US Department of Transport suggest that “distracted driving” was to blame in less than 10% of accidents, but researchers and safety campaigners argue that the true figure is probably a good deal higher, given the reluctance of drivers to acknowledge that they were using their phone at the time of the accident.
Cell phone use is regulated by local ordinanceduring certain hours in Southside Place, Greater Houston, Texas (Wikipedia)
Research by Virginia Tech, in which drivers were monitored by cameras, suggests that distracted driving causes 70% of crashes.
“No one´s going to admit it after a crash,” said Ben Lieberman, whose 19-year-old son Evan, died in an accident in 2011.
Evan had been in the back of the car, wearing a seat belt.
The driver, his friend, claimed to have fallen asleep, which seemed unlikely to Lieberman, given the busy road they were on.
“I learned that the police rarely look at phone records after a collision,” Lieberman said.
It took Lieberman 6 months and a civil lawsuit to gain the records, which showed that the driver had been using his phone during some of the journey.
Feliz Ortiz, a state assemblyman representing Brooklyn, introduced legislation that would be called “Evan´s Law” and would allow officers to use a textalyser.
The device would not allow officers to read texts or look at photographs.
Nevertheless, civil liberty campaigners have raised concerns.” (Times, 29 April 2016)
It seems our loneliness and our electronic addictions that seek to alleviate this loneliness is literally killing us.
Signboard outside Boise, Indiana (Wikipedia)
Perhaps it is time that modern day Cyranos pick up the courage to speak to the ones we desire and put down our electronic gizmos.
Reality is scary and the risks many, but the rewards are well worth the challenge.