By Jim Hagarty
I have long known that I am somewhat different from your average human being and nothing illustrates that terminal uniqueness more than my opposition to motion-sensor lights. You know, those little seeing-eye devices that peer down from the upper corners of large rooms and sensing no motion, turn off the lights to save electricity. Who else but the cranky old storyteller hereby addressing you would be bothered to spend enough time thinking about this modern-day invention to become upset about it? But I am. Darned mad, in fact.
My disenchantment with this modern wonder stems not from the fact that it doesn’t work, but that it works too well. It can crack the lights off in a instant and whack ’em back on even quicker. Where it runs into a little trouble, however, is in the way it defines motion. Maybe it’s a matter of how its individual users program it for the specific room it’s in, but some of these gizmos seem as if they would hardly respond if a tornado ripped the ceiling off while others would spring into action if a fly hiding under a desk scratched its nose.
So, this is the basis of my disapproval. The thing is simply unreliable and as a man gets older, unreliability and unpredictability are twin evils to be deplored.
Perhaps my disenchantment has its origins in the time I was teaching a summer college course at 8:30 a.m. one fine Monday morning. Though the ranks in the rows before me were somewhat depleted, given the time of day, the season and the subject, there were, even at that, almost twenty hardy souls gathered there to hear the words of wisdom that dribbled from my mouth in those days like spring waters over the rocks in a stream.
So, when my truly dedicated crew had taken their seats, I started dribbling. And as the gentle rhythms of the babbling brook can have a certain soothing effect on those who listen to its cadence for a while, so too can a college instructor’s gentle voice calm the human spirit, especially the spirits of humans who have spent the weekend just past in wild celebration the likes of which have not been seen since the end of our most recent world war.
In what seemed like an alarmingly brief period, all normal student activity – note passing, arm stretching, paper rustling, cartoon doodling – had ground to a halt. And there, before this sea of tranquility, stood a weary teacher who was finding it difficult on this day to become animated by a section of course material on which he had lectured dozens of times before. Like a recording star grown tired of singing his same old hits, the teacher was suddenly weary of hearing himself yak on.
So, how best to describe the degree of inactivity in this classroom setting on this day? Perhaps the motion sensor said it best. In a room where twenty-one human beings were engaged in the stimulating process of acquiring and delivering a college education, the lights went out. So little movement was being generated by the gathering, not even by a lecturer in mid-flight, to interest a little black box up in a corner of the room. So, it pulled the plug, the modern-day equivalent, in this case, perhaps, of giving the hook to the Vaudevillian actor dying on stage.
To re-activate the scene, I had no choice but to get something going, so I waved my arms frantically in the air till illumination returned. As distressing as the embarrassment of suffering through a negative review by a motion sensor was the fact that at least half the students hadn’t seemed to notice that their classroom had suddenly plunged into darkness. And many of them appeared, as a result, to have only slipped into a deeper level of sleep during the light-less interlude. A change in their rapid-eye movement dream-cycle resulted, perhaps, from the onset of darkness.
For the remainder of that session and the semester, I dashed about during lectures in that classroom like a hands-on preacher in a gospel tent, my students seemingly startled at the surge of energy with which I was from then on approaching my lessons. They didn’t seem to grasp the fact that a little high-tech hardware had delivered a lesson of its own that dark day in July. And that whatever might have been my previous level of disinterest in my teaching duties, thanks to science I had finally seen the light.