The Recipe of Too Much Life and Too Little News

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Here is the recipe to being overstimulated:

1. You wake up and immediately start thinking about Facebook messages and leftover homework.

2. You have a to-do list three miles long every night, telling you to flit from room to room in the morning and lay back in the evening, only to find that there aren't enough hours in the day.

3. You get email alerts on your phone from the New York Times about the US ambassador to Libya being killed and quickly delete them so you can return to turning in forms and making meetings.

I'm not saying that big world events and their implications pass me by - hardly, since that's what I'm focused on in my larger work - but because we all have more than enough on our plates most of the time, it gets easier to cherrypick what we're going to focus on. We silo. We dither. We focus on our interpersonal relationships and our club meetings and our local work, but don't really get to connect that with the larger metaphors in life. Not unless we're an academic, taking a step back in order to process every little detail (as carefully as possible).

Whether it's good or bad that we can shut off crisis, I don't know. That's a moral judgment that requires a bit too much analysis for now. But ultimately it lets us know a little more about priorities and apathy. We prioritize our small-scale lives and work, so we feel at ease deleting that news alert and taking that general feeling into our bodies. Stewing around whatever mixed thoughts we have, making a generalization (or worse, using an existing stereotype) and explaining away the danger. Click, it's gone. Crisis reportage, as Arundhati Roy soundly puts it, is the way to make people interested for an instant and to block out all of what else is going on.

But I think that we're most effective doing that ourselves. We shut off our ears and eyes to what's happening and forge something of a learned helplessness due to the fact that we don't have roles of power and mobility. Nor do we have the complete facts of the situation to assess what should be done. However, this complacency in knowledge creates the complacency in activism. If you don't want to know, then you won't want to act. And since the media is making it ever harder to get important facts from the situation, a lot of investment must be made that most of us don't have.

Meetings, yes. Cat videos, yes. International politics? Eh.

So is it that we're agents or we're acted upon? That we are driven not to investigate this Libya crisis because it's going on above our heads or because we've been trained to let others handle it? Or perhaps we think it will fade away when the media stops talking about it, another dark place that was lit up for an instant on the world stage and then left alone again. There are no easy answers, not even if you seek them out.