Monday, October 27, 2014

Plethora of Tools

Americans never do just one thing anymore. They watch television while they eat, they listen to music while they drive, they read while they text, they blah, blah, blah. That's all very well and good as far as outrospective social criticism goes, because it has no real utility or truth. It's not our fault. It's because of all these gadgets that we can't concentrate. Clearly, it's not our own doing. Blame the Plethora. The Plethora is the source of all ills, no doubt. Well, what if someone else can text while dictating while showering while watching TV while ordering a replacement water heater?

What do you mean, "anymore"? When was this nebulous time when every activity was undertaken with the dedication Zen monks tell you they have when their mysteriously detail-lite works are translated for western bestsellers? Okay, so was live music always performed in perfect silence? When people went to the opera house, were none of them whispering to each other? Were some of them worried about social maneuvering, tomorrow's meals, watching the Duke's reaction, feeling ill, or losing circulation from their corsets, and thereby not able to put their fullest of full attentions on the show? How pure was their activity? If they watched a play, was there a laugh track from other people in the audience, unfairly distracting?

Americans never do just one thing anymore. They listen to the radio while they relax, they talk while they harvest corn, they read while they drink their coffee. Those lousy radio manufacturers! Book printers! Ruining everything!

Maybe you could still have a good conversation if you weren't so driven to blame the lift for your expanding waistline. One can read a book without forgetting how to tell a new story. The development of the tongue is not to blame for why you're bored at the Degas exhibit, nor will cutting out the tongue solve your beef with impressionism.

Americans never do just one thing anymore. They talk while they smoke their pipes. They think about hunting while they lie in their blankets. They look at the clouds when watching the sheep.

Yes, by God, let there be depth. The first step toward any kind of "thinking in depth" is to not blame the server upgrade for your failure to reserve attention for other things. You were the one who bought the damn iPhone, remember? You could throw it away if you wanted to. If you wanted to prove a point, that's what you'd do. If you didn't need to prove anything, you'd still be able to pocket it and enjoy the symphony by summoning the same clarity of mind that you could've even when there was a mammoth hunt scheduled for the next day. The problem is internal.

That makes for terrible criticism, though. No, instead, let us simplify. Simplify! Throw all these things away and balm ourselves in cave bears and sabretoothed cats, from back when life was simple and the thatch had to be redone every spring and men were men and women were women and you could finally focus, focus, on good conversation, because the foul Plethora wasn't there, always ruining everything we do and it's not our fault we must purge these gadgets and return to an imaginary proto-time to be free!


  1. For most things, there is a point where quantitative accumulation results in qualitative change. So if we look at the time we actually spend looking at screens, it dominates the waking hours of many people, i.e. they do it while supposedly engaging in all the other activities of living. So in that sense, distraction is probably a "thing".

    What is funny is that the admonitions to focus on one thing as supposedly we did in pre-modern times, is a straigh up modern, Frederick Taylor delusion and obsession with efficiency - only with industrial production and scientific management doing just one thing became a "thing".

    Before that, all activities were integrated in the process of living. Work was never "just work". This was also where you socialised, sang, played with, and educated the kids.
    One of the saddest groups of people i know are the quantified self self trackers. They want to maximise the efficiency of their sleeping, for crying out loud.

    Once they are done optimising, they will carve the maximum time for actually living, I presume.
    I wonder what will they do once they get there?

    1. Be happy in coffins, I s'pose.

      No, no, seriously...they'd probably reboot the whole thing, and use forced mortality illusions to make all their old experiences seem new and captivating.