It is easy to abstractly theorize about what The Dude means for contemporary capitalistic culture, and what kind of model for behavior he gives those who struggle to abide through the pressures, demands, and resulting anxieties of the market. On occasion, however, The Dude offers a simple moment of insight and a way to immediately apply his template to everyday life.
When Mr. Lebowski goes through the ruse of hiring The Dude to make the “money” drop to “bums” who “kidnapped” his wife Bunny, who may or may not be the carpet pissers, he provides The Dude with a pager, so that he can reach him at all times. He expects The Dude to live his life according to the noises and flashes of the invasive and oppressive device.
Not long after The Dude leaves the Lebowski mansion, he is at the bowling alley reporting on the new development in his life to Walter:
Dude: They gave Dude a beeper…so whenever these guys call…
Walter: What if it’s during a game?
Dude: Oh, I told them if it was during league play…
As The Dude trails off he throws his arms up and shakes his head to indicate that if page does come during league play, he won’t answer it. After the drop goes poorly, The Dude refuses to answer the cell phone that Lebowski also gave him. It is a beautiful image—The Dude sitting in a bowling alley with phone in his lap endlessly ringing. He just stares into the lane as if he doesn’t ever hear the mouth of technology screaming at him.
It is an instructive moment of Zen focus and Christ-like concentration on “taking no thought for tomorrow,” as Matthew 6:34 exhorts.
In Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got From The Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety, sociologist Dalton Conley describes and documents how the communicative technology that was supposed to liberate everyone from the chains of labor has actually tightened them, keeping them locked tight around Americans in their homes, on their vacations, and in their “free” time.
There may be nothing more “un-Dude” than the influence that the cell phone, with its continual improvement of the “smart” phone, has on its users’ behavior, and the lifestyle it encourages.
Not only are obsessive texters and twitters shackling their minds to their work, making it difficult to enjoy leisure, entertainment, and the intimate company of friends, they are perpetually removing themselves from the experiential moments of their lives. They are limiting how much of an experience they engage and absorb, and therefore, are not fully experiencing anything.
Author Fran Lebowitz, who does not own a cell phone, believes that she is the only one who experiences the streets of New York City when she stands outside her Manhattan apartment or sits on a park bench. “If you’re doing this,” she says while pantomiming a person typing into a little box on a little gadget, “that’s where you are.” “These machines allow people to not be wherever they are,” she goes on to say, “and since I have none of these machines, I’m forced to be where I am all the time.”
Forcing yourself to be where you are all the time is a crucial and fine first step to opening yourself up to the unlimited possibilities and opportunities of life. Facilitating an addiction to not being wherever you are shuts down those possibilities and opportunities.
The Dude, before the ubiquity of the cell phone, before the invention of the smart phone, and before the popularization of text messaging, understood the need to avoid and ignore communicative gadgetry. The Dude wanted to be where he was, especially if it was the bowling alley during league play.
The Dude’s prioritization of the present and the physical was before his time. His example could not be more insightful, instructional, and important in an era when a culture of connectivity, in which people check in with the office multiple times a day while in Barbados, have simplistic conversations through boxes at concerts, movies, and bowling tournaments, and endanger themselves by typing on the road because they feel pressure to respond to everything immediately, represents the social norm.
“Phone’s ringing Dude,” Donny shouts to the Dude when they leave the bowling alley. “Thank you Donny,” he responds while walking away. The Dude is impervious to Lebowski’s expectation of instant gratification and devoted deference, and he is impervious to obnoxious, disruptive, and selfish noise coming from the cell phone. He is impervious to the demands of the modern world.
David Masciotra is the author of Working On a Dream: The Progressive Political Vision of Bruce Springsteen (Continuum Books). He is a columnist with PopMatters and regular contributor to Relevant. For more information visit www.davidmasciotra.com
Seymour Brighton says
He also maybe just wasn’t sure what the hell he was going to TELL the Big Lebowski about the failed drop. That could also be it. Just avoiding responsibility like the stoner-slacker he was.
Or he was a good example on how to avoid modern technology.
Either / or …
Great stuff. People sure ain’t abiding where they are, bound as they are by these electronic dog collars. You can even hear ’em yakking away in toilet stalls. I mean, if you can’t be out of touch for the time it takes you to take a dump, you ARE out of touch, man.
Tom Purcell says
Be where you are! Great advice!Cell phone use while driving was outlawed last year and yet I still see people on the phone having a far away look in their eyes who just happen to be behind the wheel of a car,usually driving a little too slowly for road conditions or weaving a bit.Dudeists do not knowingly put themselves or others in harms way.Amen
Or to put it in terms we can really relate to, “Shut the fuck up, Donny!”
J.J. Vicars says
A-fucking-men! Some dummy was texting while he was at a concert, giving a blow by blow account of what was going down. Had to tell him to quit texting and just enjoy the show. As a musician it really bugs me to look out into an audience and see most of them dicking with their phones. Rock out already!
Assholes arer so busy trying to capture and record the experience, they’re missing the experience. Life can’t be contained in a viewfinder, man. It’s what’s happening on the other side of the camera. Or cell phone, what have you. Smarter phones are leading to dumber people.
Akshay N R says
This is one of the reasons why I embraced Dudeism. I mean, which other religion is ever going to tell you about such crucial and genuinely important happenings in life? I just wish Dudeism would be the official religion of this world.
At least then, when I go out to meet people, I will be actually MEETING them as opposed to just watching them Text or Tweet.
Dude, that part about being out of touch when taking a dump: that was one truly inspiring piece of observation man. Cant agree with you more.
Thanks, Akshay. I figure anyone talking on the phone while “dropping the kids off at the pool” has as much shit coming out of one end as out of the other. But that’s like, just my opinion, man.
c.c. keiser says
Is this?….What day is this?
Doctor Joe says
What an insightful article. I thought I was the only one who didn’t own a cell phone! I’m amazed at how most of America is so “situationally unaware” these days by keeping their noses and face in their Blackberries and cell phones. They must be REAL important people I recin’
Stop and smell the roses before they’re gone….
J.J. Vicars says
manny-san, your third comment, dated 5 minutes after mine, sums it up perfectly. Thank you!
Eric King says
Well written article. I think about not being connected to my phone, but then I feel like I couldn’t reach my family or they couldn’t reach me. It is a rock w e have chained to ourselves.
Doctor Joe says
It is only a rock if you allow it to be….
Try to let go and relax. Things will work out.
While I certainly see a lot of merit in living for the moment and embracing the present and the physical, I feel this worldview in itself isn’t any more healthy than the busy-body one it opposes. As with most all things, there needs to be a balance between the two. Going through life frantically obedient to schedules and new technologies is of course very isolating, strenuous, and leads many to a frenzied lifestyle with little enjoyment or appreciation for the mere fact of being. However, over-focusing on the present and physical contentment and desire is not a healthy approach either. Refusing to think about the future cripples our capacity and will to leave this world better than we left it. Sure we all need to sit back and relax at times, if only to maintain sanity, but we all need to buckle down and get some actual work done, too, if we genuinely want meaning, stability and progress in our lives.
I’m with you up to a point, Fyrehead. But the vast, and I mean VAST, majority of the blather I hear going on around me on these here phones has absolutely nothing to do with getting work done. And surely most anyone can go without getting work done in the time it takes to take a shit.
Doctor Joe says
Cell phones have made some peoples ego’s expand exponentially. Who is so important that they can’t take a shit and not worry about conducting some sort of business? I mean really, put life in perspective. Is this really that important and necessary? I usually hang up on them. Same with texting. Send me a proper English message without all the cutesy abreviations or not at all. Works for me. I abide.
Rev. Ed C says
Great article, and a fair inditement of the surge in mobile phone use warping the way we’re living our lives.
It’s interesting that this problem is being highlighted here as an American issue. This is quite a global issue. In the UK we have been having this problem for the past 10 or more years.
I put off getting a mobile for years until I realised its potential use outweighted the one in a blue moon that someone might actually want to contact me. I mostly use it as a pocket watch :)
People are ceertainly becoming slaves to texting and the accessability of smartphones (which once again I am resisting with ease). Not just business people who won’t switch off, but people who seem to live their social lives via text message and are unable to walk down the road without a phone glued to their eat, exchanging shallow, meaningless banter just for the sake of itself.
The saddest inditement, however, is that children are now owning and using these devices constantly. The old image we have in the UK of two friends sitting in a room, texting each other istead of talking. The mobile phone is a communication tool, not a toy. Children should not be given tools to play with, IMHO :)
Doctor Joe says
Our dependence on cellulat technology plays right into the hands of terrorists when they realize, and can readily observe, how situationally unaware people are. Have you noticed how many security people are talking or texting when they should be observing their surroundings? This dependency will all come around and bite us in the ass soon!
The availability of immediate communication has led to a decrease in patience and the ability to simply abide with what is. Caught at a red light? “I’m bored, I need to call someone!” Stuck in a checkout line? “OMG, I need to be distracted!”