As we’ve discussed here often, one of the secrets to having a good life is the ability to curate. We choose, as much as possible, the elements we allow in our physical and mental space. Our success varies.
With this in mind I recently decided to curate my experience of information with extreme prejudice. This is something I do periodically, and more frequently as time goes by. The thing I seek to manage we sometimes refer to as”mass media,” but we struggle to find a fitting term for something that is ubiquitous and difficult to escape. Nevertheless, I was determined to severely limit my exposure to news of all kinds, commercials, websites, opinions and social media.
The power of the human psyche to adapt is remarkable. Our youngest media consumers have no idea that the information inundating their daily lives is a howling wilderness compared to the early days of the information age and the time before that.
We long ago accepted that the price we pay for entertainment includes the time we spend enduring ads and commercials, and that includes all those websites dressed up like news providers. We don’t begrudge these efforts to pay the bills. But what we often forget is the sophisticated science that informs the manipulative power of the ads.
To some degree we all carry within us an empty space of want and need, unfulfilled desires and unrealized dreams. Religion, spirituality and Faith have been trying to teach us for centuries how to fill that void, but in a culture where the secular and the carnal is paramount, we are losing the knowledge and the ability.
Ads are designed to tap into that void, to create need where none existed before, and the longer and more frequent our exposure, the more habitual our behavior becomes as we “eat” to satisfy the “hunger.” Our needful economy depends on constant and ever growing consumption, and we are conditioned to follow the fashionable and the viral.
Our job as curators would be difficult enough if manipulative marketing was the only contaminant in our flow of information, but there are elements even more toxic to our peace of mind. Politics and propaganda have polluted the river in concentrations that threaten the very survival of our civil society.
Elections never end now, and the two dominant tribes of red and blue are more than willing to tear the country apart in order to gain and regain power. Unfortunately, we are helping them do it. Someone red speaks; someone blue tweets and someone is offended. Someone else slams, attacks, destroys, calls out, and stuns and we comment and repost, and it all happens in a phantom world of pixels. The sun is shining, the green shoots of spring are emerging from the cold ground and the birds are singing, but we are angry because someone whom we’ve never met, and never will meet, said or typed something.
You might be surprised at how quickly anger fades and hunger diminishes when they are not being artificially stimulated by mass media. You might also be quite surprised at how addicted you have become if you decide to abruptly cut off your exposure to Facebook and Twitter, to close the laptop or turn off the television. I challenge you to resolve to try it for a day and take note of your reactions. Notice how quickly you can rationalize a retreat from your resolution. You may not be able to cut off the flow cold turkey the first time you try it. Don’t despair if you can’t. A lot of study has gone into getting you hooked on pixels.
I should be more proactive in my own efforts to curate. They tend to occur at moments of frustration or disgust which could be altogether avoided if I was more vigilant, but like many of you, my business interests require a constant gathering of information, and there are many road hazards on the information highway.
It was a productive vacation, this brief departure from media. Work was easier and sleep was sounder. A few more books got read that had been collecting dust. Several projects which had been put on the backburner got some much needed attention.
Returning once again to the flow, I found the nation right where I left it, a land once known as a melting pot now defined and divided by our insufferable identities. I hear “diversity and inclusion” but I see instead a kind of Balkanization.
It’s more than a little embarrassing to watch our elected leaders performing playground rituals of he said, she said and indulging in name calling. Oh, and the victims, the racists, the bigots, the anti Semites and the Islamophobes. “I know you are, but what am I?” The posturing, the recriminations, the spin, all packaged up in tweets and sound bytes ready to be propagated into the echo chambers.
But you know, another technique for curating our experience is to shift our perspective just enough to see the humor, and once we learn to do that, humor is abundant. In fact, Nancy Pelosi provided me the biggest laugh of the season so far, and almost as soon as I opened my laptop. I’ll leave you with her quote, taken out of context but able to stand on its own for the purposes of a good laugh. She said,
“I don’t think our colleague is anti-Semitic, I think she has a different experience in the use of words, doesn’t understand that some of them are fraught with meaning that she didn’t realize.”
Or, to put in another way, in the succinct language of youth, “Man, she was just sayin’.”