By now you’ve seen the Louis C. K. video clip where he talks about hating cell phones, right? It’s “gone viral” which means your doctor will prescribe “antibiotics.” I have shared some similar misgivings about cell phones, including my well-remembered description of the lonely and fruitless text-checking I observed on the subway. You remember when I wrote that, don’t you? No? Oh, well, maybe it didn’t “go viral.” Maybe because I wasn’t sitting next to Conan O’Brien when I said it. But credit where its due, department.
But the interesting thing about what Mr. K (Kafka reference??) said wasn’t the cell phone part. It was the sadness part. The loneliness thing. The empty-center thing. These topics have been out of circulation since the late fifties and early sixties, when brooding was still poetic and fashionable. They were subsequently banished as the tidal wave of smiley faces in the 1970’s washed away the texture of our lives, only to be replaced by the idea that we must be happy at all times. Nice idea, but as crazy as the desperation subtly hidden in the smiley face’s grin. (Interesting fact! I just looked up to see when the yellow smiley first appeared: 1963! Tight fit with my timeline!)
But anyway, Louis has resurrected existential dread, and it seems fresh again! Dig out your parents’ old Camus and Sartre paperbacks. Of course we will only relearn that the existential puzzle can’t be solved, only dealt with. But L.C.K. put his finger on one of the ways. NOT relentless cheeriness, as the culture would have it, OR non-stop distraction as the cell phone technology offers. It’s Sadness. Allowing sadness in, saying hi, asking if it would like a drink or to stay and chat. And not just sadness at events, but at the condition. Sadness is not the same thing as depression. It’s the healthy version of a painful response to the scary thing.