It took a week for us to stop hearing the voices.
Although they had been our constant companions
for years by then, a steady stream of chatter,
it reached the point where they became unbearable.
Each message had become a death to us. Just a little
to start with, soft like the twitter of birds,
not too intrusive perhaps, but then more insistent
by the day, slowly overwhelming, until
our own voices, thoughts, were lost to theirs.
Eventually, it was us or them. They became
mere shouts and remonstrations, pleas and cries,
a tidal wave of suffering without pause,
of snide retorts and performative assertions –
the whole lot began to drown us.
Turn off your radios immediately.
So we tuned out our frequencies to a dead channel,
fourteen billion years of static, that perfect state
before the first authoritarians came,
a numbness welcome to our battered senses,
and, not without some small misgiving,
we cut the line and left the voices dead.
Thankfully we were left not too affected.
They faded like the effects of nepenthe
or the Martian atmosphere in Total Recall.
Already, we wonder how we ever heard the voices.
This poem © Oliver Tearle 2021
Note: A poem about quitting social media.
The title is a kind of pun on the two different plurals of ‘medium’, a piece of wordplay reinforced by the later references to radios and televisions. (The ‘twitter of birds’ is also supposed to be a gentle nod towards social media, combined with the ‘bird’ in Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’ which reminds us that humans ‘cannot bear very much reality’.) Mediums hear voices (or claim to), but the media are the voices in the ears of the populace. ‘So we tuned out our frequencies to a dead channel’ alludes to the opening sentence of Gibson’s Neuromancer, a book which foresaw the insidious effect that ‘cyberspace’ would have upon all our lives. The Big Bang, leftover cosmic background radiation from which can be witnessed every time an old television is showing static, actually occurred 13.8 billion years ago, but I was rounding up for metre’s sake. Nepenthe was the fictional drug in Greek myth which enabled the taker to forget the world; the atmosphere of Mars could cause death in minutes, but at the end of the film, once the hero and heroine are able to breathe again, the changes to their bodies are quickly reversed. Total Recall is, of course, a film all about trying to tell simulated reality from the real thing.