‘Your problem,’ I said to my friend, ‘is that you live in a state of constant emergency.’
I said that to and about him a few months ago, a smart-arsed observation about his endless battles with unpaid bills, unauthorised overdrafts and problems at work, but it could apply to any victim of the information age. Everyone I know is acutely distracted.
I was lying in bed reading a book about someone trying to write a book about DH Lawrence when my mobile phone beeped. A text message! Conscious of the irony of being distracted from a book about endless distraction, I resolved to finish the page I was on before picking up my phone, but when I got to the end of the page I realised I hadn’t absorbed a word.
With a gun to my head, I couldn’t have told you what I had just read. What I had really been doing, of course, was thinking about the text message – who it was from, what the person wanted… all that. I knew it was unlikely to be a message announcing the return of the messiah, but the fact that it was unassimilated information, un-consumed media, was enough to dislodge my serenity.
My conscious effort to continue reading was over-ruled; my subconscious had declared a state of emergency. It speculated that the message was most likely to be from my sister, confirming our arrangements for tomorrow night, or my girlfriend telling me she was nearly home and could I put the kettle on? I hoped it wasn’t an automated message from O2.
There was nothing for it but to check the message. It wasn’t from O2. I thumbed a suitable response. I was free to return to my book with a sense of anti-climax. But now that I was upright, instead of returning to my book I felt compelled to wake my sleeping computer and click on the Mail icon.
The mail software showed me the usual unsolicited offerings of pharmaceutical products to help me sustain an erection, along with a few Facebook notifications, a personal email which demanded logistical considerations, and three job possibilities. While I clicked through these e-mails, I had iTunes shuffle dutifully through a playlist.
I was unsettled. Should I respond to these e-mails straight away, or flag them for future consideration? Obviously the latter; it was Sunday evening. I don’t like to consider complicated logistics or apply for jobs on Sunday evenings. On Sunday evenings I like to watch TV.
That reminded me – Top Gear was on. I went straight to it. Jeremy Clarkson made several references to Lady Chatterley’s Lover throughout the episode, making a lot out of the fact that ‘crisis’ was used in the book as a euphemism for orgasm.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was, of course, written by the same DH Lawrence that inspired the book I was distracted from reading by the phone, then the computer, then the TV, so the circle of distraction was complete.
Get this: I happened to look up ‘Messiah’ in my computer’s dictionary. Look at the example in the second definition.
Considering the Messiah is the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation, I cannot think of a more tasteless example of a less literal use of the word. Hats off to Apple’s Dictionary Corner.