The Age of Distraction


Stop. Remember what Joseph Campbell said about the dragon scales, what was written on each one:

Thou Shalt.

Thou shalt get to thy appointment by 10am. Thou shalt take thy vitamins. Thou shalt pick up the dry cleaning. Thou shalt have breakfast while checking thy email, watching the TV news, texting to thy colleagues, and trying to hold a conversation with thy loved ones.

On the scales of our own contemporary dragons is the word “more”, which isn’t too far off the old “thou shalt”. For some reason, we want more. We need more. And to have more, we create circumstances that give us permission to indulge in this “more”, and we have renamed the permission. We now call it “errands”.

It isn’t enough that we simply sit and talk. There’s enough to talk about, since we now have access to more information than ever. One hour’s worth of surfing the Internet will yield at least an hour of good discussion, and yet we don’t do that. Instead of ruminating, tasting, savoring these wonderful spoonfuls of knowledge, absorbing it into our blood and feeding ourselves with its nutrients, we gulp it down and shove it through the system. We go through it so fast that we soon feel hungry again.

My God, the Higgs boson particle. My God, the mapping of the human genome. My God, the treatment of cancer without having to use embryonic stem cells.

My God, our first black president. My God, a woman president. My God, a goal for equality for all. Just these topics could engage a dinner table with amazing conversation for at least seven sittings.

Instead, we re-tweet an article we never finished reading. Its title was good enough, on to the next good title. We watch five-minute videos that are so overproduced that there is nothing left for our imaginations to contribute. We come to the dinner table with an arsenal of half-topics and a constant flood of new topics lighting up our mobile devices every ten seconds.

Our phones ring, we take the call. We respond to every text as if it were a game of dominoes, as if we will lose if we don’t lay down the next tile. Every person we know is organized into folders, subgroups, chat rooms, virtual hangouts, and is represented by a geolocated icon. But if we ever run into these people, we will only have two minutes to talk, with one of those minutes spent synchronizing the address book on our cell phones.

Yes, more gets done. We have more notches on our virtual belt of accomplishment, of being acknowledged as “one that has done a lot”. But what did we really do besides regurgitate?

One of these days, I will have a one-hour, face-to-face conversation with someone, about a small handful of topics. Our phones will not ring because we will leave them behind, turned off, in the glove compartment. We will not have the crutch of technology to verify our facts and opinions. We will make mistakes. We will get less done. And life will go on.