March 2, 2017
The lights begin to fade: down, down, down until darkness. Enveloping all stimuli, this darkness reduces me to a levitating unit of consciousness. Floating in a womb-like pod above 850 pounds of salt water impels higher awareness in myself than before.
For 90 minutes I’m alone in a sensory deprivation float tank.
No sights, no sounds, no phones. Nothing to smell except air. Nothing to taste except air.
Locust St., a 15 minute drive from Clayton High School, contains the business, F. L O. A. T.: For Loving Anti-gravitational Timelessness.
Sensory deprivation float tanks, or isolation tanks – first tested in 1954 on patients experiencing conditions of post-traumatic stress disorder – are my agents of choice to temper my anxiety that I am gradually falling into the insatiable mouth of Entertainment.
Mindful of this fear, I also know how much I love my iPhone 6SE. I am in awe of my phone for delivering international friends’ faces to me, for its capacity to play any song, take any picture, wake me at any time.
But the infinite opportunity for distraction that my iPhone offers can warp my definition of machine as machine. I can be dominated by the tweets, the glowing packages of entertaining information constantly at my fingertips, constantly regenerating. What if through peeking into my portal of virtual acquaintances and friends I could altogether avoid solitude?
I began to think I could never give up my phone. So I did.
The day after Super Bowl LI, I told my brother to hide my phone from me for one week.
My phone-siesta reminded me that each technology is only an extension of our humanity, not synonymous. When we argue we cannot surrender our phones, we distort technology into our equivalent.
Mark Twain wisely said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed; if you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.”
This double bind is certainly relevant in 2017 and stretches far beyond the newspaper to myriad media.
On Day One of phonelessness, I noticed I missed such characters as Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Bannon and Sean Spicer.
Unable to love to hate them, I felt a funny emptiness. I missed their entertainments.
Drifting deeper into my disconnect past Day One, I confirmed my inkling that such figures are hand-picked entertainers, that they chiefly exist not to fulfill governmental duties but to create circus for citizens, that their steady ability to make me love to hate them had been leading me toward the very destiny I most deeply feared: I would be a hypnotized member of the audience at their lethally entertaining reality television show.
Day Five of phonelessness: alone in a sensory deprivation float tank.
No sights, no sounds, no phones.
This session feels radically unlike any other I have experienced.
Thoughts of every color burst from my head. Eyes opened in total darkness, I scroll through my mind, not my feed. Weird. I perceive every person and every atom as my tour guide, I feel ready and I feel able; I want to end all tedium and fade into the oneness.
Through releasing control I gain control. The float tank has become the mechanism that helps me navigate between my reality and my constructions of reality.
In an era of endlessly swirling truths and untruths, choosing to find what is really real for each of us seems the first necessary step toward rightly viewing information on our screens.
Float tanks, interesting vessels for my attempts at detecting truth, might be a worthless soup of salty crap for my neighbor.
If you accept that the At-Our-Fingertips-Entertainment world is the unifying American source of information and can reject this authority when you chop tomatoes and groove to the tunes in your own head, here is your isolation tank. Seek renewal in this zone.
Ultimately it’s personal, right?
You have your phone and I have my phone. We all design an individualized flow of information.
Now each of us must by our own means separate the superficial from the authentic, the machine from the emotion, the entertainment from the uncontrived.