The day was cloudy and cold as I stepped out for a walk. As I neared a spot where there are wide grasslands, I paused here and there to see two warblers, an American robin, a goldfinch, sparrows, and blue-colored scrub jays. It was as I was panting near what I thought was a red-breasted robin that it struck me, as to how much biophony has reduced in the areas of our habitat. I am no ornithologist. In fact, I am a bird who is seldom right about birds – for all you know I may have been watching two sparrows, a bunch of bullfinches, some doves and a bluejays. You see, birdwatching is a hobby that requires patience, and I start to hum before I am properly stationed with the binocs. That would hardly do to the elusive birds waiting for peace and quiet before emerging from the bushes and so on. No sir. You would not find me waiting with a pair of binoculars behind any tree for the life of me. That kind of joy requires patience and I know best of all, that I am as restless as a hummingbird. Despite this, I love watching birds when they are not shy enough to stray across my path. I love their peckings and their cooings and their general sense of industry.
I listened to the bird calls for a few minutes and thought about how much I miss the sounds of birds. The only sounds we hear often is the Angry Birds background music that is both irritating and jarring from some multi-media entertainment channel. We have truly substituted cacophony for biophony. What is biophony? A word I was interested to learn about as I listened to this recording of noises in a California forest over the past 10 years.
It has happened so gradually that many are oblivious to the change, and now happily go on with their lives. Save for a pang now and again, we don’t set aside another thought to the missing birds in our life.
In other news, I read recently that children exposed to inordinate amounts of screen time are less tuned to reading people’s emotions and acting accordingly. Apparently, they miss subtle body language and facial clues, and blunder on to make things worse.
If we ever need to get a peek into what society will be like when that transformation happens completely, all one needs to do is seat themselves in front of any appalling soap opera on Indian Television. The maudlin entertainment pulled my attention when the parents or parents-in-law were here several times. There the heroine is: impeccably groomed, dressed like she is going for a party, to receive her abusive husband or to confront angry relatives or something-that-will-ensure-she-cries-buckets-in-minutes. But there is something else here for us to observe. She babbles on completely ignoring the cues that are emanating from the person she is conversing with. There is nothing but brooding silence, or desperately angry vibes that are coming from the other person. Of course, no good can come from this, and pretty soon, everything thuds to a stop with an explosion of sorts. (The same thing could have happened with a man, but Indian TV prefers crying women.) The glycerine acts immediately and there are tears and dubious sentiments on culture and I gag (once again) in the confines of my home.
This saddens me. Is this not what society is headed for if we lose the ability to study the subtle hints that body language gives us? I truly can’t think of a bleaker future than one where we regress to live like folks in Tamil TV serials. If you had told me that we would have to adopt the babboon-way-of-life again, I would have been less sad, for we might have evolved into humans once again.
The problem is that, it will be a slow process, one in which one generation of parents finds a subtle change in their offspring and another change in the generation after that. We may, in the meanwhile, categorize these mystifying changes to a generation gap and only realize three generations later when a great grandparent talks about a time when he used a subtle cue to decipher a situation.
Just like we cannot bring the biophony back, what if we cannot bring one of our most useful social skills back?