In a scintillating poem, “Late Apocalypse,” Scott Cairns (Slow Pilgrim, 214-5), Scott Cairns gives the sharpest, pithiest description of the contradictions of communications technology I’ve ever read. Cairns is playing off Revelation 1, where John “turned to see the voice.” Again and again the narrator of the poem turns – to see “seven bright convenience stores” and “seven military vehicles” and “seven Wal Marts.” Then:
I turned and beheld seven rows of plasma screens, each bearing
seven vivid scenes, each flickering, each pulsing with a light
revealing distant terrors, conflagrations, sufferings—and all
thereby brought so close, and all thereby kept far away.
That is it: Those screens before which we spend our days bring every human horror before our eyes. The terror is all there, so close. But the screen keeps us safe, and we know it. The terror can’t get to us, it’s beyond the pulsing screen, haunting our dreams and making us shake our heads in sad sympathy, but not threatening.