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Birney Imes: The white noise of the Internet


Birney Imes



We've all witnessed it. You're in a restaurant and at a nearby table a couple sitting across from each other are both engrossed in their cell phones. A friend calls it "prayer meeting." 


We're all guilty, to some degree, of succumbing to the temptations of the Internet, often at the expense of the manners our mamas tried to teach us. It seems we as a people -- especially when we are young -- have an aversion to being alone, bored or quiet. We are desperate for that next message, no matter how trivial. 


This is hard to believe, but a 2010 Kaiser Foundation study found that 8 to 18-year-olds on a typical day spent on average 7.5 hours using entertainment media, including 4.5 hours of TV, 1.5 hours on the computer, over an hour playing video games and less than 25 minutes reading books. Amazing. 


Civility isn't the only victim of our appetite for constant communication. I wonder if it's taken a toll on our creativity. 


Given iPhones as teens, would there have been a Muddy Waters or B.B. King? Maybe, maybe not. A kid with nothing to do runs a strand of wire between two nails and makes music with it; he finds a piece of paper and begins to draw; a young girl living on a farm far from town writes a poem about something she's seen or felt or she invents a fantastic story. Creativity is the antidote to boredom. Better yet, it is the fruit of boredom. Silence and solitude are incubators for imagination. 


For a time in the 70s and 80s I was able to spend some time in the company of Big Joe Williams, the bluesman from Crawford. Joe was in his late 70s and had returned home to spend his final years. He had led a vivid life, both personal and professional. Joe toured Europe, played Japan and made countless recordings. It's said Bob Dylan, then a kid trying to make a name for himself in Greenwich Village, played harmonica on one of Joe's many albums. 


Years later Blewett Thomas, who befriended the bluesman late in life, took Joe to Jackson to see Bobby (as Joe called him) in concert. Blewett has pictures of Dylan and Big Joe backstage. 


When I knew Joe he lived in a trailer in part of Crawford called Sugar Hill. How that three-block long stretch of gravel road with its battered trailers and ramshackle houses bore the same name as the ritziest section of Harlem, one can only guess. Joe actually grew up out from Crawford. 


Yet, this desolate bit of landscape gave birth to an original talent. A vivid culture around him to draw from and vast amounts of time to convert it to music (and in Joe's case, a desire to stay out of the cotton fields) are what gave rise to Big Joe Williams. 


We are all victims of the siren call of the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, messaging, games and email can be useful, they can also siphon away the hours, leaving us less time alone with our thoughts.  


Through seemingly mindless activity -- pulling weeds in the garden, walking through the woods, driving a back road, even quietly contemplating nature -- we give our brains space to offer up ideas, thoughts and memories. We sort things out, come up with solutions. Given time to reflect, wisdom is possible.  


Something these days that seems in short supply. 



Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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