Distractions, Ignorance and Other Signs of the Times

Somehow, we recently chose a new leader to navigate us through some very stormy waters. He will have many issues to juggle simultaneously; domestic and global affairs, security, the Supreme Court (oy), and a very active Twitter account, where he can display his preference for 140 characters over entire security briefings. Perhaps illegitimately, perhaps ignorantly, and perhaps by just too many people not voting, he, whom will go nameless here, now occupies the Oval Office, displaying his xenophobia, racism, hatred of all things decent, a burning desire to turn the White House into a profit center, and a cluelessness of all that is happening in the world. So, what are we left with? Distraction and ignorance setting the table for the planet. On the positive side, a titanic amount of material for late-night comedians.

Is there something happening to our society, or is it just me? While nothing is more exciting than the exponential explosion of technology, nothing is more disheartening than the exponential spread of shootings and terrorism through the very technology that is spreading. And while this particular threat doesn’t really involve the great majority of us, I refer you to what writer Joanne Tombrakos cites in her article, recently published on LinkedIn: Facebook alone gets fifty minutes of our time each day. Globally social media is getting 106.2 minutes each day. That does not include the estimated 6.3 hours per day the average US worker spends checking email or even start to look at how much time is spent on messaging apps.

Now let’s add to that the amount of time spent absorbing TV commercials and wondering which trash needs to go into the recycle bin. We arrive at a total of somewhere in the vicinity of 10 hours per day of performing chores that didn’t even exist until relatively recently. Let’s see now, there are 24 hours in a day, we need some sleep and eating time, a few trips to the lavatory, leaving us with, hmmmm… let’s put that aside for a few minutes while I digress.

Recently, a well-to-do couple whom I know, but wish not to, journeyed to one of the more popular European countries. They visited the three major cities, resided and ate in the most expensive hotels and restaurants because they wanted to. They hired private cars and drivers so they could experience all the sites from the comfort of a large American car that undoubtedly had to avoid the quainter streets due to some size proportion issue. All this in eight days. They took their iPhones and a laptop so they could check in everyday on Facebook to assure those at home that they were safe and enjoying themselves. As promised, they appeared in a photo every day at some unknown site hiding behind them, smiling, holding a drink in their hands, toasting the rest of us. Comments were as follows:

-Such a beautiful couple!

-You’re obviously enjoying yourselves.

-Miss ya!

-You guys look great!

When they returned, tanned and relaxed, they told everyone they had a great time.

At the same time, another, older couple whom I choose to know well, went to Egypt and packed only carry-ons. They took a smartphone and kept it turned off and checked for emergencies only. They sent me a photo of one of them on a camel, not far from the Nile, as seen in the background. They walked everywhere they visited over the course of three weeks. They saw museums in the dust of Cairo, stood in the now legendary Tahrir Square, visited ancient shrines, ate lots of falafel and hummus, saw several of the great pyramids of Giza, and cruised down the Nile stopping off at farms and small communes to meet locals. Since neither has a Facebook account, they didn’t keep in touch with people back home. They returned home, exhausted and wholly exhilarated.

My summation of these two tales of travel: The first couple traveled but they did not see. They returned home ignorant of whatever was in front of them, with the exception of restaurant menus. The second couple, without distractions, assimilated themselves into the environment, and experienced as much as they physically could without regret.

A writer friend of mine, teaching a class to educate her students on the differences between writing professional content versus writing blogs and social media posts, explained to me how her students had a very difficult time dropping “BTW,” “So,” “Hey,” and the myriad of emoticons available to them, and generally understanding that writing often requires a more formal approach, even without as much as a smiley face at the end. Is this a case of ignorance due to common distractions?

I admit it. I have a Facebook page and once in a great while I check in to see if anyone on my very short list of friends and distant acquaintances has anything worthwhile to say in public. I’ve taken hiatuses from Facebook for years at a time and nobody seems to miss me. I’ve given up checking in regularly because it seems to be deluged by people obsessed with Trump news, hatred, and pets’ birthdays. I’ve given up looking at these posts, as well as MSNBC and CNN, since all the raging political news combined with endless commercials make me anxious and angry, and distract me from time better spent. I suppose the commercial-free news stations like PBS probably seem really boring to most people, including myself at times, I’ll admit. Who needs in-depth stories; make the point and get on with it. After all, how many Americans are actually interested in watching real news, not fake news, about real people in Africa and Eastern Europe? Most don’t even know where Africa and Eastern Europe are! However, they do believe in Noah’s Ark, and if you want to see the real Eiffel Tower, simply board a plane to Las Vegas, and voila!

We are living in a time of unsocial media. People are not talking to each other. Smartphones are no longer smart phones; rather, they are more like mini-TVs and video game arcades used to distract us into oblivion. Our government ignores our people, and themselves. Autonomous cars are on the verge of driving themselves, which would actually be safer than enabling us to text while driving and killing each other needlessly. New Years cards are sent electronically. Fake news is prevalent at every turn. Big sterile box stores litter the marketplace. We constantly are told “…your business is important to us so please continue to wait…”. Having our identity stolen is an everyday fear, often the result of shopping and banking online, freely giving away our social security and credit card numbers without thinking about it. They and our dental records really are the only identifiers we have left. In spite of this, do we take steps to protect ourselves or do we choose ignorance and distraction over proactivity? Sad.

What would life be like if we didn’t have iPhones, iPads, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, SnapChat, social media, texting, email, video games, Apple watches, and all the rest of the forms of so-called communication, entertainment, digital dispatch and intercourse, and online education when we could absorb everything we need to know isolated from the planet in our bathrobes? Would the Founding Fathers have drafted the Constitution almost 250 years ago if they had the same access to the distractions that we have available to us now? Let’s be grateful that John Cleese is willing to take us back, like so many lost sheep. Would our contemporary politicians be able to put aside their falsehoods and ignorance to come up with some great concepts and foresight of their own, especially when our Great Leader is busy tweeting. Here’s a hint… no.

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