Bear Heart Beats and Glowing Devices



Ken Taub

It’s not just convenience –or Steve Jobs– that keeps us online and shackled to our devices. It’s our DNA.

How did we get here, I asked myself often.

Why do we allow ourselves to be slaves to devices, chained to multiple screens even on the fairest of days – especially those of us who were around years and years before PCs, cell phones and tablets? What happened to us?  Maybe this:  starting with an apparition unpolluted by modernity, or a story wrapped in antelope skin, with the horns still attached…

Before  telegraph, telephone and the Internet, there was howling and drums.  The smoke of a nighttime fire would rise visibly above the tree line and you might make out a pulse, faint at first, then louder, bear heart sounds riding a series of small shocks in the air, and then, finally, a beat.
The listener was torn:  I don’t know those who are making this sound.  They are strangers to me, and so I would be wise to keep my distance.  But the beat brings you in, you don’t want to stay away, you ache to come closer.  Beckoned by the drumming and the throaty chants, rhythmic and insistent, it is all you can do not to come running across the flat, dry grasses, toward the smoke and the awesome vibrations slapping the night air.
And so you do.  But you don’t run.  You slowly approach the sound and the gathering of people, as if drawn in by an invisible cord.  You’re not sure what they are chanting, not sure what they are doing, not sure if you are even remotely welcome, but you move forward just the same.
You are called forth by these vibrations, compelled to step in, join the circle, and then very gently, almost imperceptibly, you shake your head up and down at the chin.  It’s who and what you are.
So you join the nighttime chant.  The strangers may be strange to you, but their acts, and these sounds, are not.   You are human.
It has always been this way.  Always.

There may be people literally dying in front of their computer screens. Surely, there are people who are pale on the outside and hollowed out stem to stern from so much time spent before a glowing page, some no larger than two inches deep. And perhaps the only thing less deep than the screen on a so-called smart phone is the shallowness – the faux intimacy – of many social media sites.

Still we come.

I asked myself this question about screen addiction and getting lost down the digital rabbit hole because I have been working (and puttering) from home for the past eight years, and sometimes, frankly, I don’t even recognize myself. I feel more alive every time I walk away from the computer, and surely when I step out the door. It’s like the difference between looking at an online picture of a pretty face and a real kiss.

But I needed something more than another recycled insight on the mushy merits of social media, let alone one more self-inflicted nick about screen addiction and a shadow life online. And then it hit me.

On a very deep level, we’re powerless.

First, I was looking in the wrong place — because it is common everywhere but anthropology departments to look at our culture and not at our species. Humans continue to act like we’re always and forever self-invented, without tendencies so innate they border on instinct.

It is much more than boredom or the ubiquity of devices that keeps us tethered online. The most verbal and intertwined social species, we remain the knowing homo sapiens sapien only to the extent that we share what we know.

It is this need to share the latest currents of mind with others of our kind that keeps us online (and, yes, loneliness to some extent; to read about that and what the online experience gives us and what it will never be, read the brilliantly constructed “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” by Stephen Marche, still viewable online: ).

Set apart, we are throats in the desert. So we are thirsty to speak, and to share, and to find out what our friends and neighbors are up to – even if they now live far away.

But we do ourselves a disservice of sorts, because we think about connecting today as plugging in — literally finding an A.C. outlet and getting on the Internet or hopping onto the cloud. But that’s just the current means of idea and image conveyance. The real connection taking place is mind to mind, idea to idea, snarky comment to snarky comment. We yearn as we have always yearned — to link with our kin, the earthlings with the big ideas and small gossip.

It’s not marketing that compels us, it’s our own genetic siren song.  The human call of the wild is a howl to connect, and now the call is by phone or text, Facebook or Instagram.

So that (as Miss Billy, my very old neighbor, now gone, used to say after her long over-the-fence tales) is the story behind the story. Smoke signal, drum, song, cave painting, scroll, book, telegraph, radio, TV, web, text via phone. No matter. If we are forced to use our own damn blood to scrawl on a bleached scrap of reed or bark, we do it. Shouts across mountain ranges or sending carrier pigeons aloft with messages tied to their legs — it is something we are forced by our very nature to do.

We are wired for connection. Steve Jobs did not make us junkies for devices that allow us to communicate, he only made them sleeker.

So please keep this in mind my fellow digital device and online addicts: the means of communication are convenient, or incidental, but they are not the primary thing.

Surely, when drums were new, we were enamored with the tightly stretched skin and the deep sounds they created. When printed books were new they were treated like valuable treasure — hoarded, sometimes hidden, and highly revered. When the radio was new, families huddled around it as if the little squawkbox was a great campfire sage. Today, we revere our tablets, smart phones, and other ingenious devices. Keep in mind, some are only 10 years new, or less. The iPad was introduced only 7 years ago. It is still a magical little machine.

Someday, we may send out plasma energy bubbles of sound and image, effortlessly pulling them from a sleeve like a trained magician, or simply blowing them into the air like dandelions. Doubtless, we will be enamored with our talking plasma bubbles, for they will be our vehicle to communion — mind to mind, heart to heart.

Why are am I here, and why are you here? Because carrier pigeons are extinct, and talking plasma bubbles are not yet extant.

Ken Taub is a New York-based independent advertising and marketing consultant, copywriter and freelance writer, and co-owner of a yoga studio, with a background in philosophy and a degree in Chinese Studies. Contact: or go to

© 2014 Ken Taub