The less you know,
the more you think you know,
because you don’t know you don’t know.
– Ray Stevens
Well, I finished the book Amusing Ourselves to Death a few days ago, and I ended up with about ten pages marked to go back and read again. There were so many things in those pages that intrigued me, that I wanted to think about more, that I wanted to discuss.
One of the main themes, which has been swirling through my brain for the past week or so, is that our constant access to news from everywhere
has made relevance irrelevant.
I know…that sounds sounds ridiculous. But think about it for a moment. When was the last time you listened to the news and it changed your plans for the day? It has frustrated me many, many times when I heard really upsetting news that not only could I do absolutely nothing about it, but I didn’t even really take the time to think about it very long. It may have popped into my head long enough for a very quick prayer once or twice through the day, but it didn’t really change my life.
Often, the things in the news are dramatic enough that it seems they SHOULD change our lives. But we can’t restructure our lives every time there is an earthquake on the other side of the world or a murder in some other city. There are just too overwhelmingly many things happening at any given time for us to be able to assimilate it all.
And how does that matter? It matters because we become accustomed to tragedy. We become hardened to brutality. We hear of it so much that we are no longer very deeply affected. Our minds become calloused and uncaring. After all, it’s not anyone we know…
At one time, people rarely heard any news except what was happening locally in their town. The news actually had relevance to their daily lives. Now it is rare for the news to make any real difference. Instead, we find ourselves pretending that it all matters, but in truth, we know that it probably won’t affect us.
Neil Postman traces this phenomenon back to the invention of the telegraph. Henry David Thoreau remarked in Walden that “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing to communicate…”
It’s an interesting thing to think about how very much information we take in, and how very little it really matters to us. I feel a certain obligation to keep up with “what’s happening in the world,” but why? How does it matter? Why is it important to keep up with world news when I don’t know the names or occupations of the neighbors across the street?
I just read another book called World Made By Hand by James Kunstler, a story of a future America where all government, utilities, and transportation have collapsed, and everything is centered in the local community. The town has practically no contact with the outside world, and must rely on the ingenuity of its people, similar to a frontier town a couple of hundred years ago. The thing that impressed me about the scenario was the fact that there was a real need to work together with the people around you in order to survive.
That is something we have lost. At least, I know I have. For all our “connectedness,” we live isolated lives, in a way. We text our buddies, we fire off quick emails to businesses, we call our loved ones, we keep up on Facebook, but how many people do you connect with, face to face and heart to heart?
What do you think? Do you feel that you are closer to more people than you used to be? Or less? And if there’s a difference, what makes the difference?