Gongoozling in the Digital Age

Have you forgotten our new vocabulary word already? Gongoozling means to be a spectator. (It also means something else which is NOT the subject of this post.) Go retake our vocab quiz if you need a refresher.

My (now frozen) shoulder still has me sidelined, so instead of playing yesterday, I gongoozled. I couldn’t watch my own team—they were playing an away match and I didn’t have time to make the trip. Instead, I watched one of my club’s other teams play its home match. Such inspiring tennis!

Here’s something I noticed yesterday, and not for the first time. I was talking quietly with another gongoozler when I overheard someone say, “Oh, wow—great shot.”

I looked back to the court, but of course I’d missed the whole thing. “No matter,” an inane voice in my head piped up. “I’ll just rewind it.”

You know, rewind. Like we can do with live television now, whether we’ve programmed the DVR or not. Just hit that handy left-facing arrow button on the remote and you get a second chance to see what you missed while you were busy googling what language is spoken in Greenland (West Greenlandic, English and Danish) or checking on the state of your cuticles (deplorable).

Only, much to my dismay, it turns out that real life doesn’t work like that. There’s no remote. If you missed it, you’re plum out of luck.

Probably in the dystopian future, when the world is so saturated with security cameras that no inch remains unsurveilled, we’ll be able to open an app and see a replay of anything we want. I figure it’ll work something like this: I set my time parameters (e.g., the last 3 minutes), point the phone camera at the area I want to see, and voila! I’ll have a replay of Eileen’s perfect poach.

But until that glorious day arrives, we’re mostly stuck in a you-snooze-you-lose reality. Better pay attention, bub, because this moment is happening one time only.

As I indicated earlier, this isn’t the first time I’ve come face-to-face with my bizarre belief that I can rewind real life. Almost always, it happens when I’m watching a tennis match in person. I’ve tried to explain this experience to other tennis players, only to have them look at me with an unmistakeable mixture of pity and concern. Apparently, I’m an anomaly. Or we could say I’m exceptional, which certainly sounds better.

Mostly it just amuses me when these mental blips occur. But they’ve got me wondering whether I’ve become a less attentive person overall. It’s clear that I’m less attentive during television shows or online because I don’t have to be attentive. As a kid, I was completely absorbed in Scooby Doo or Happy Days because rewinding live television wasn’t an option. If you missed it, you missed it. My default setting, like everyone else’s, was attentive.

Today, when it comes to television, my default setting is inattentive (except for Breaking Bad, of course). It’s especially that way when I’m watching tennis matches, because let’s face it, it’s hard to stay riveted when Rafa is toweling his face, kicking clay off the baseline, touching his shoulders, nose and ears, and picking his shorts between every point. He finally serves…and it’s a let. He gets another ball and starts his OCD ritual all over again.

The amount of actual high-quality tennis action in any match is small, compared to the time eaten up with unreturned serves, double faults, face mopping, ball sorting, ball bouncing and changeovers. And my attention, like everyone else’s these days, is frayed. As much as I love watching tennis, I multitask and daydream and end up missing some quality points. I have the luxury of doing that because of that wonderful little remote.

All that’s fine, until I find myself adrift in real life without my trusty rewind button. Fortunately, in most environments, my rewindlessness doesn’t affect me. I had a long walk in the snowy woods with my dog this afternoon, sans cell phone, and I was fully present, no need for a rewind. So all is not lost.

All I have to do is recapture that mindfulness on the tennis sidelines, in my new role of gongoozler.

Have you gongoozled any matches in person lately? Did you momentarily—even just for a nanosecond—have the instinct to reach for the remote and rewind something? (Please? Anyone?) Is the only solution to my inattentiveness less television? (Nooooo…..)

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