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CHIPPING AWAY AT THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE

OK, so here's my idea: televisions in elevators. We could call them . . . televators. They'd be perfect for those long, boring moments you spend waiting to reach your floor. You'd be laughing at Lucy or rocking with MTV and the time would pass like, well . . . seconds.

Or, how about this: televisions in traffic signals. No more tedious moments spent with nothing to do while you wait for the light to change. You'd be having so much fun watching TV that you wouldn't even notice you had the right of way.

You think I've lost my mind, right? Well, har-de-har, and think again.

In Miami, Seattle and probably a bunch of other 'burgs I don't even know about, selected gas stations have installed six-inch TV screens . . . in their gas pumps. Yup, gas pumps. The things go on and off automatically when you pump your fuel and show everything from news to cartoons. And, of course, commercials.

I'm not going to pretend that this marks the end of civilization as we know it. But just the same, it's hard not to see this as a mildly depressing sign of the times. Especially when you consider the following quote from one James Prettyman, a Seattle-area man, who said of the new screens, "It's better than sitting around while you're pumping, going, 'Hurry up, hurry up.' "

Ahem.

How long do you figure it takes to fill your gas tank?

No, I've never timed it, either, but if you had to guess, how long would you say? A minute? A minute and a half? Two minutes at the outside?

And he's going, Hurry up, hurry up?!?

Criminy.

Not to pick on Prettyman. What's true of him is true of us all. Remember when you thought the microwave oven was an amazingly quick way to prepare your meal? Now you stand before it, knife and fork in hand, moaning, "Hurry up, hurry up." Remember when computers seemed to speed your work up tenfold? Now you sit there cursing the cursor, groaning -- all together now -- "Hurry up, hurry up."

We move faster than ever, but never quite fast enough.

And that's not even the depressing part. Rather, it's this need we have to fill every spare second, every nook and cranny of our days with . . . something -- often generated for us by media. We live in cacophony. Silence is jarring.

So much so that we have embraced noisy lives of ambidextrous doing, as if fearful of the idle second. We used to laugh at the cliche of the high school kid watching television, listening to the radio and talking on the phone while doing homework. Now that's all of us. Or haven't you ever seen a woman talk on the telephone, read the paper and apply mascara while driving? We're like the plate spinners on "The Ed Sullivan Show," running back and forth trying to avoid the crash.

Paul Simon once wrote of how "no one dared disturb the sounds of silence"; it seems significant that the tune is more than 30 years old. We have obliterated sounds of silence since then, made a world so steeped in cacophony and ambidexterity that silence is almost an offense.

Not that there was anything profound about the quietude of that minute or two we spent fueling our cars. What did we do then besides plan dinner, watch the numbers on the pump change or stare blankly ahead? But in that idleness, we also gathered ourselves, stood in brief respite from the tumult of the day.

Now we'll be watching television instead. Now there'll be one less place of respite.

That ought to leave us a little chagrined. After all, tumult pushes us like dry leaves scuttling ahead of the storm, and every day it's a little less possible to escape the nagging whisper that has become our mantra:

Hurry up, it says. Hurry up.

Miami Herald

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