Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where was I when...?

Tomorrow is the seventh anniversary of one of the biggest "Where were you when...?" moments in living memory. I have lived through a few of them and, of course, I can remember where I was when each of them went down. You wouldn't care, but one is supposed to consider it an interesting topic of conversation.

I reckon the general course of any such conversation must include (a) several people trying to outdo each other but not really listening to what anyone else is saying, and (b) a longwinded recitation of details that are boring to anyone but the teller. Yet the conversational form continues to fascinate so many of us. It's an interesting phenomenon.

It would be interesting, of course, if the answer to "Where were you when...?" was right on the spot where it was happening, or if the event concerned us or our loved ones personally. I have often been moved by stories of the people who lived through, and died in, the 9/11 attacks. I recommend the book 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer, and the movies United 93 and World Trade Center. And I still remember articles from the first issue of Sports Illustrated that came out after the event, chronicling the fate of athletes who were involved. It was the last magazine in the world I ever expected to make me cry, and I still get choked up thinking about it.

I think, when you boil down most of the "Where were you when...?" talk, it amounts to "Did you, or didn't you, stay up around the clock watching the special news coverage?" Those are times when TV news doesn't just take the pulse of the world; it sets it, so that everyone's heart beats in unison while history unfolds in sound-bites and video clips that can be repeated, slowed down, magnified, and commented upon until the next bit of information comes down the pipeline.

How interesting the world will be, from my point of view, as such events continue to happen in these post-TV years. I've been in recovery from being tube-fed since July 2002. TV no longer dictates to me the rhythm of my life, the way I view the world, my interpretation of events, or my thoughts about what's "hot" and what's "not." Future "Where were you when...?" events may hold a different meaning for me, since I won't be able to participate in those conversations on the same level as people who stayed up all night watching the CNN coverage. Possibly the answer will be, "I heard about it on the radio while driving home from work. I looked up an article or two on Google News when I got home. I went to bed and slept like a baby, while whatever happened happened. Then I heard what had happened on the radio going to work the next morning. Heigh ho."

I probably won't be included in many such conversations after that. People will think I'm odd. And I am. But honestly: life is possible without TV.

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