In my brain this week, things that have been mediated to me and/or processed through technology include: the oil well sealed, Snooki’s astonishing orange glo, creepy Glen on Mad Men, Prop 8 struck down, Arcade Fire live from Madison Square Garden, Chelsea Clinton getting married, Facebook photos of my baby niece and nephew, Anne Rice quitting Christianity, Netflix film that I can’t even remember, and Pat Robertson’s son asking me about “hepcats” on the 700 Club. Not to mention the many ichats, skype chats, text conversations and phone calls that are too numerous to even recall.
Are all these things created equal? I don’t think so. But the way everything is collapsed into a flattened plane of multi-tasking and live-feed updates these days, it’s getting harder and harder to separate the important from the merely diversionary. This week I had profound conversations on AIM with friends, even while I was opening windows and watching news clips about zebra-donkey hybrids. I was writing an email while getting distracted by a Tweet I saw about a bus in China that drives over cars (it’s awesome) and trying to read a NYTimes article about a Korean filmmaker I recently discovered. A few days later, I can’t remember much of any of it, or why it was worth my time.
I recently wrote an article for Q Ideas on the topic of infotainment, in which I described the blurry lines we now see between what is newsworthy and “important” and what is merely trivial and something to be consumed with no strings attached. You can check that article out here.
The whole thing sort of reminds me of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he describes (among other things) the way that television has contributed to the fragmentary nature of media consumption in which we get this bit AND then this bit, but with little WHY to go along with any of it. He writes:
“Now, this. . .” is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see. The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly—for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening—that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now . . . this.” The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately 45 seconds), that you must not be morbidly occupied with it (let us say, for ninety seconds), and that you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial.
In America particularly, we are obsessed with the “next.” We want to get something done and move on to the next thing. Perhaps this is why we consume media at such a breakneck speed and with such dizzying efficiency. But what does this do to our ability to 1) dwell on something for a long period of time, 2) discern what is worth thinking about and what isn’t, and 3) value depth rather than breadth?
In my own life, I am tempted to want to think about an idea, maybe writing something about it, and then move on to the next thing. I’m tempted to approach reading books this way–reading them, writing in them and enjoying them, but then checking them off a list and moving on. But is this a good thing? Last week I read The Divine Milieu by Teilhard de Chardin, Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver and “No Exit” by Sarte. They were all immensely provocative and interesting, and I’d love to think about them more. But I’ve already moved on to the next thing (To Change the World by James Davison Hunter). There is just so much in the world I need to read. So much to experience.
But I worry that our desire for “more” (and our ability to get more) has decreased our appetite for understanding and making connections. Oh to make connections! Oh to understand “why” rather than just “and!” Perhaps what we really need (what I really need) is to stop adding to the pile and start making sense of what’s already been consumed.
But you’ve read enough of this one simple blog post for now. Time to move on to the next thing.