Prone to Wander

Now… This

Have you ever found yourself beginning to become enraged as you wait for the little hourglass on your computer to go away? I have to admit that I have little to no patience when my computer can’t keep up with me. (In saying this, I mean that my computer is really pathetic and not that I compute at blazing speeds.) I sort of expect my computer to perform one task after another without any delay or down time.

In a lot of ways, this is how we are treated by our culture. To understand what I’m talking about, just turn on the evening news. You will hear about all kinds of horrible and amazing things that occurred during your workday. I have just one question for you: When is the last time that you really felt anything when you watched the news? I’m not talking about your emotions during the program, although those are arguably fleeting as you attempt to keep up with the quick succession of news stories. I mean, when is the last time that you thought about a story the next day, let alone the next week? How about another question: When is the last time that a news story led you to action? Just think about it. Regardless of whether the subject of the story is religion, politics, or a horrific murder. Even what we hear at church on Sunday may fall into this category. When is the last time that you said after church, ‘Wow. I can’t get up tomorrow without seeing that displayed in my life.” Instead, I think to myself, ‘I never knew that. What a great fact to file away in my brain’s religious folder.’

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have time to really reflect on what I am hearing. I hear about so many things on a daily basis, I can’t possibly take time out for each one. Especially when so much of what I hear doesn’t really impact my life. It is as though I am listening to a story to make sure that I don’t have to remember it. Wait, who was in the car crash? Who was just killed? These are horrible events, and yet I don’t think about their implications if they do not involve someone I know.

Without hesitation I would argue that I am not the only person who feels this way. I just finished reading Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, which was actually written in 1985. That being said, I found this book really insightful and in some ways prophetic. This book spends a lot of time reflecting on how television has shaped the way we think about all subjects: religion, politics, sports, love, and violence. Thankfully, this is not another book about censoring the content of TV, but an honest look at how TV affects how we learn (By that I mean taking in concepts, making conclusions about them, and applying them to our lives). The following quote really illustrates why I have difficulty reflecting on what I see on the news:

“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 see or hear, or possibly anything one is ever likely to hear or see. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no ball score so tantalizing, no political blunder so costly 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 forty-five seconds), that you must not be morbidly preoccupied 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 fact, it is quite obvious that TV news has no intention of suggesting that any story has any implications, for that would require viewers to think about it when it is done and therefore obstruct their attending to the next story that waits panting in the wings.

Combine this with how overwhelmed we are with information that really doesn’t affect our daily lives, and who would have time to really be impacted by anything?

I really enjoyed the book, even though I may not agree with everything he said it has actually made me think a lot. (I typed up some quotes to keep handy, and I ended up with 5 pages…) Because I long to reflect and understand a little more what is actually occurring in the world, I long to have a different type of news show. That is not going to happen, so I begin to wonder how I should react. Again, Postman accurately avoids the pitfall of just blindly condemning TV, but offers the following:

The problem, in any case, does not reside in WHAT people watch. The problem is THAT people watch. The solution must be found in HOW we watch.

This book has helped me focus on HOW I watch TV. Taking note of how the way the news stories are presented to me affects how I view the good and the horrible things that occurred today. Trying to remember those things that impacted me during the news, so that I may reflect on them later during the day. I need to be ok that I have to give the world and our culture a big hourglass while I figure out what just happened.

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4 comments

  1. i need an hourglass, too. i think the TV spirits surgically removed mine. darn TV spirits!!

    i totally can’t wait to read this book. he definitely has some incredible points from the little i’ve read and what you’ve posted here. i hate that i’ve (we’ve all) become so numb. i feel like we’re losing pieces of our humanity (and pretty key pieces, at that). i guess that’s why he titled the book amusing ourselves to DEATH.

  2. emlevenhagen

    It really is amazing how stupid TV has made America. I’ve really noticed it in trying to have a conversation with people. They hate focusing on one subject for more than about 30 seconds. We have the attention span of four-year-olds. That’s probably why the sermons at church keep getting shorter and why we repeat the same line of some empty “praise song” 350 times. Well…enough on that topic…what’s next? 🙂 J/K Great post!

  3. The reading I’ve done on website usability (for my former job) talked about how you have to assume that people have zero patience to find whatever it is you want them to find on the page. If they can’t see the “Buy” button or the “More Info” button immediately and get to what they want in one click, your customers will leave. That’s just fine for web site design, but it’s almost like our brains work that way for everything these days! People don’t want to read a book about a certain subject when they can get a quick summary of whatever they need on the internet. If we never take the time to really learn something well or try to understand it, we end up with a bunch of jumbled fragmented information in our heads that doesn’t mean anything to us, since we haven’t actually spent any real time thinking about it.

  4. BenE

    Kudos Mr. Josh! I had this conversation with a friend not too long ago about how we demand that the government censor more content on TV; when it is through our own actions that we perpetuate its continued showing. We have desensitized ourselves to the world around us. We no longer really care about our fellow man. We hear the news like it’s a soap opera, only as entertainment. No wonder 24/7 cable news is so popular now. Car chases sell advertising. Who cares about what drove that person to commit the crime in the first place.

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