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June 26, 2009 11:44 pm

Multitasking has never been an inherent strength of mine, yet I find this changing gradually with each passing day. My usual tendency to pore rather than skim is slowly being subverted by the sensory bombardment of competing signals, all vying for the limited commodity that is my increasingly diffuse attention. As a result, I occasionally find myself succumbing to the dreaded "tl;dr" effect, despite my innate resistance to this affliction.

When I first noticed this behavioral trend within myself I found it alarming, but my feelings about it have since shifted closer to ambivalence. After all, such symptoms of the "hypermediated" lifestyle are not purely a recent development, but rather endemic of a larger, ongoing cultural shift that (believe it or not) can be traced all the way back to that hazy period of history predating the advent of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Though Web 2.0 makes for an easy scapegoat when lamenting our collectively dwindling attention spans, our brains are thankfully equipped with natural distraction filtering mechanisms that are more than sufficient to cull this swelling computer-amplified cacophony.

For me, the main challenge lies in taming the urge to pay attention to everything at once in favor of seeking a happy medium between the magnetic twin poles of schizophrenia and tunnel vision. Somewhere within this shifting juxtaposition of input streams lies a form of media literacy that is at once entirely instinctive and maddeningly elusive - a melding of fragmentary forms into a hidden image that can only be discovered by allowing one's eyes to defocus. This is synaesthesia's ghostly cousin, an odd echoic mixture: a strange synthesis.

The extent to which I can even perceive the aforementioned phenomenon is limited, so I can understand if my attempted description of it seems frustratingly ethereal. Most often, this bizarre blending process manifests itself in the form of some unexpected resonance between seemingly incongruous media artifacts - for instance, a certain song that I come to associate with a specific book or even a particular friend, despite the absence of any consciously discernible connection between them. Examples of this abound for me, but thus far I have not been able to identify any real, coherent pattern underlying them all; sometimes it's a matter of proximity, while in other cases it might result from a similar mood evoked by two individual pieces of art. But regardless of the cause, the result is always the same: formerly disparate elements begin to coalesce in my memory, becoming inextricably linked within my mind's synaptic fibers.

My earliest recollection of such an occurrence emanates from my original experience of playing through Final Fantasy IV on the SNES. As I was guiding Cecil through the perils of paladinhood, my father was simultaneously spending a good portion of each day blasting the album Apollo 18 by They Might Be Giants, which was also released around the same time period, over speakers that seemed to permeate every room in our small house. As a result, it took me a long time to realize that the song "I Palindrome I" was not actually entitled "I Paladin I" as I had originally perceived.

Then there was Mt. Ordeals, with its inimitable twangy theme music that always seemed to correlate in an odd way with the beginning of "My Evil Twin" until the two eventually became conflated in my mind and the song morphed into an eerie power ballad for Cecil's battle with his own dark side on the mountain's summit. I slowly began to associate other songs from the album with characters and events depicted in the game - "She's Actual Size" with the white mage Rosa, "Spider" with the scheming pair of Golbez and Kain, "If I Wasn't Shy" with Edward the cowardly bard, and "The Statue Got Me High" with the sacrificial petrification performed by the twins Palom and Porom.

As I progressed through the game, the synth-laden songs of Apollo began to sound more and more like they were composed using the native sound chip of the SNES. Meanwhile, the plot of FFIV itself was leading me to the moon and beginning to more closely echo the outer space motif embodied in songs like "See the Constellation" and "Space Suit".

My most enduring memory, however, comes from the game's final dungeon. I spent a good deal of time in the last few areas, fighting enemies in order to level up my characters prior to braving the climactic battle against Zeromus. One of these enemies, EvilMask, was a giant, disembodied purple head that, to this day, I still contend is exactly what my father would look like were he in fact a nightmarish space demon rendered in the form of a two-dimensional sprite. I should also mention that while I was repeatedly fighting this disturbing replica of my father's floating head, I had the television muted - partly because I had already spent enough time in the same location to grow tired of the in-game background music, but also because I had long since conceded the futility of attempting to compete with Apollo 18 blaring on an endless loop just outside my bedroom door. Of course, I wasn't really complaining as by that point my Stockholm Syndrome-induced obsession with the album had reached its apex, and in lieu of being involuntarily subjected to it I probably would have been listening to it of my own volition anyway.

Just in case repeatedly fighting the space dad monster mask while my real father was dancing around our living room wasn't enough future therapy fodder, the reoccurring song that is now indelibly linked to that experience is TMBG's "Hall of Heads". Even now, hearing this song immediately conjures up images of crystal stairways brimming with leering, lavender monstrosities. If I may pilfer some Killer Instinct terminology, I believe this is what one would refer to as the cognitive equivalent of an "Uuuuulttttrrrraaaaaaaaa Cooommmbbooooooo!".

But for me, it remains an unmistakably strange synthesis.