Two and a half weeks ago, just before the nation’s concentration was seized by events in Boston, we went to a family wedding out of town. We would return to Boston on the eve of the Marathon, amid hordes of arriving runners. But on that Friday afternoon before the rehearsal dinner, I found myself in a mammoth fitness center, attached to the hotel in a suburban mall. The exercise emporium was so big it gave me vertigo. And the more I thought about it, the more the room — with its ubiquitous electronic gadgetry and with so many of its patrons running in place — seemed to embody certain stereotypes of contemporary life.
I dutifully took my place on one of 20 or so treadmills, facing a mammoth wall across which were arrayed perhaps a dozen large-screen televisions. That each one was tuned to a different channel made the sight dizzying. A loud disco tune pulsed through the space, drowning out all other sound. During my half-hour on the running machine, I tried without success to make the multiple screen images cohere.