Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ignorance and Distraction

Does it ever occur to anyone else that we live in a society that works very hard at distracting us from anything important?

For the first time in a long time I found myself flipping through TV channels for hours. I myself don't own a TV set. I watch a few shows via Netflix and Hulu; I get my news and other information from certain online sites and podcasts. Yesterday, the weather was cool and gloomy while I did some emergency babysitting. The kid entertains himself with some of the three millions toys he has. I entertained myself with Satellite TV. It would have been horrible except for the observations I made.

When I ranted the other day about the different food shows, I didn't mention that I rarely watch them anymore. These days, the only televisions shows that I'm ashamed to admit watching are from Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise. (I can't even believe I admitted that in print.)

Most of the very popular shows on television are made to numb our brains to any important social issues. Unless grown women acting like "tweens" is an important social issue.  We even like to be entertained while we catch up on news, which is why I we love Jon Stewart and Fox News. And why does it seem that there are so many people emulating the behavior of out-of-control celebrities? When's the last time you saw a kid voicing their goals to be the next Jon Stewart or Rachel Maddow? Being smart doesn't get as much attention as being drugged out or good at twerking.

When I was in my late twenties, my father gave me the book "Cultural Literacy" by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. My father was big on education and he believed that learning was a lifelong pursuit. I was young and very distracted by all things pretty, shiny, new and fun. I figured I'd made it out of high school and into a good job. My father figured I was a little bit ignorant in my complacency. He was right. Let me tell you something: ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is dangerous.

Not many years before he died, my father and I had one of our long and interesting talks. One of the things he told me then was that he wished ignorance was more embarrassing than it was. He said that when he was younger, it was an honor to receive as much education and knowledge as one could. He had to join the military to get his education. Outside the formal classrooms, he was always curious about the Why, How and What of almost everything.

I remember that my father was very strict about my siblings and I spent our free time. We rarely watched television because the TV set was hardly ever turned on. My parents watched the news and the late shows. I know that I watched shows like "The Brady Bunch" and I have memories of shows like "H.R. Pufnstuf". If I close my eyes now and try to remember the living rooms of our homes, I can't picture a TV set being powered on. I can promise you that the living room was the only place for TV sets we owned.

Since I've been "grown", there are lots of times when I've vaguely wondered about life without all the televisions, computers and cell phones in family homes. Apparently, I get amnesia about the years previous to the last twenty. If I gave myself just a good ten minutes to think about it, I could tell you about that life.

Not too many years ago, people had to really go out of their way to find an "escape" or distraction from important things. Now, we have to work hard just to escape all the distractions.

If I had real guts, I'd give myself some challenges throughout my life:

  • Go for a week using my cellphone only for calls - no games; no messaging or emailing; no pretending to check my phone just to avoid making eye contact with other human beings.
  • Going computer-free for a few days. Of course, I'd have to buy printed newspapers and books. I don't even want to think about this challenge if I have to be honest and classify my cellphone a "computer", which it is...
  • No TV of any kind for a month. "No TV" would mean no Netflix or Hulu or whatever.
  • To name and identify every major member of the current presidential administration. 
  • Study up enough to be conversationally comfortable on the subjects of law, medicine and literature of the last 15 years. Watching "Matlock", "House", "Grey's Anatomy" wouldn't be allowed as study materials. (Did I just reference "Matlock"? ~head-slap~)
  • For one year, actually write (and mail via the Postal Service) all birthday, anniversary, and other cards that I usually just get online and send via email. 
  • To learn as much about my neighborhood and neighbors as I know about people who live halfway around the world from me.
You see what I mean? We keep so busy just keeping up with the latest thing to "manage" our lives that we've lost control of managing our lives without those things. We have so much useless (though entertaining) garbage thrown at us that our brains have no room for important or useful information.

I don't know about everyone else, but I think I need a brain detox. I need to clean out some of this crap that clutters my mind so that I can regain some of my cultural literacy. Too many of us have a PhD in Kardashian while we couldn't pass a high school test on the timeline of any U.S. military action of the last decade.

Ignorance and distraction. We went looking for escape and ended up getting lost.

By the way, if you are interested, you can test yourself. (Don't ask me about my scores. I'm not telling!)