Colson: Keep your nose in your iPhone; move along
I point your attention to a piece in the March 8 New York Times that might help to explain why you’ve been feeling anxious, frustrated and, in some cases, explosively angry much of the time these days.
But first, let me say that I have long felt there is some kind of devious plot underway, on a national and perhaps international level, to get people so wrapped up in dealing with the minutiae of life that they stop thinking about the big picture, about how badly screwed up the world has become and how even worse it can get if things keep cruising along on autopilot.
One idea behind the plot is to keep cranking out bright and shiny toys and gimcracks so that, instead of wondering why the world is warming up rapidly, people will concentrate on getting their iPhone working right, or getting their taxes filed correctly, or figuring out how to get decent health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, or finding a way to pay for that brand new, 28-speed, ultra-light road bike they really don’t need but really do want because … well, just because, damn it!
As a subtext of the plot, the movers and shakers behind the screen (see: Wizard of Oz) realized decades ago that the U.S. political system is tailor-made for manipulation on a grand scale. Simply pull the rug out from under what once was the greatest mass-education system in the world, and you can dumb-down the populace sufficiently that a strong minority of people will believe anything that is repeated often enough, and loudly enough, particularly if it is said in monstrously oversimplified terms that can be twisted to match the deeply held prejudice of that subset of the population.
Then, pay a few people a lot of money to parrot those same untruths, half-truths and outright lies, whether on TV or from think tanks or from the halls of Congress, and pretty soon you’ve got your perfectly docile population of uncritical, unimaginative drones on two legs.
An alarmingly ascendant number of us are dutifully walking around with our noses too close to our “smart phones” and other devices, spending our hard-earned and meager cash on products made by cheap slave labor on some other continent, much of it poor-quality stuff we don’t need and throw out almost immediately, or on food that is not healthy but fills us up for the moment and makes us fat later on.
And the main thing is, we do what we’re told, at least most of the time. And when we don’t, well, the ruling elite has a growing domestic army of militarized police just waiting to kick down our door, take us away and teach us the value of obedience.
And what’s worse, we don’t seem to mind. We’re not paying attention. We’re distracted to the point of being nearly blind to anything beyond about 4 feet from our noses.
As noted before, there’s a book out about one particular aspect of our current predicament.
A guy named Matthew B. Crawford has penned a book called “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.”
In last Sunday’s New York Times, Crawford offers a critique on the loss of the ability to think quietly by ourselves, because our lives now are dominated by commercially-driven imagery everywhere we go.
As an example, he described swiping his bank card at the grocery checkout one day, and while he’s waiting for the prompts, advertisements popped up on the little screen because “some genius had realized that a person in this situation is a captive audience.”
Turning to airports as another example, he notes that ads have appeared in the trays we put our smaller items in for inspection by airport security; on the handrails of escalators; everywhere you look.
He laments the “loss of public space that is required for sociability, the kind that depends on people not being self-enclosed,” self-enclosure being the last defense against the onslaught of irrelevant, trivial commercial messages.
With almost no quiet time to reflect on life, to consider things more deeply than where to get the next latté, Crawford continues, we find ourselves feeling angry for no apparent cause, and with no apparent outlet for our mounting frustration.
With all this distraction Crawford describes, I want to know how we can possibly be expected to pay enough attention to, say, who is lying and who is telling the truth in a local or national election, or whether oil and gas drilling next door is making a family deathly ill, or any of the vitally important questions we must consider as we make choices in our democratic republic.
The answer, of course, is that we are NOT expected to think in those ways.
We ARE expected to keep quiet, keep buying crap, keep watching mind-dulling TV, and keep our noses in our iPhones where they belong.
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