Consuming Outrage, Absurdity, and Our Own Sanity

Like wild animals, we cannot consume enough media madness

“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Herbert A. Simon

The phrase “You are what you eat” comes to my mind, but at a more expansive level. Our obesity problems extend far beyond food; we seemingly cannot consume enough, always need more, are living in a black hole of insatiable informational gluttony.

The Bad Taste of Media

It strikes me at various times and in various places. Most recently, while waiting for my car to get an oil change, another customer came in and saw me sitting, reading a book. Perhaps I stood out (while sitting down) because I was reading instead of staring with glazed eyes (as most people do in such places) at the omnipresent TV which was broadcasting the latest bullshit. Regardless, he approached me, feigning interest in the title of my book for a reason to step into my silence. I shared with him the name and subject of the book, aware that the information I was conveying meant little to him beyond an opening to chat. He just wanted to talk for a few minutes to a complete stranger, apparently.

And I provided an ideal opening, because I mentioned I was reading because I am not a fan of television, particularly the endless news stream (you can no longer refer to it as a “news cycle” because that would imply a beginning, end, and new beginning, whereas news, information, data, or whatever you wish to tag it seems to stream endlessly and without apparent meaning, an informational diarrhea of torrential proportions). My new acquaintance summed it up quite succinctly by confessing his actual physical discomfort from overexposure to this polluted stream of unconsciousness and the prescription his doctor offered as a cure: a media fast.

Since we are daily taunted by this eternal information “feed,” fasting is an apt analogy. At least when we gorge on food, we reach a saturation point where the body screams “No!” to another bite (at least for an hour or so). But the unending, droning, gnawing, steady drip of the latest outrage or absurdity denies most people the ability to lift their heads from the trough to take a breath of fresh air, for fear they will miss the next outrage or absurdity which might be more outrageous or absurd than the current barrage of meaningless noise.

Even a blind person can tell when they are talking to a person drowning in their own media ocean; there is a vacuous timbre to their voice as they absentmindedly ask “Huh?” in response to most communications directed their way, long or short. Riding public transport now creates new fears; instead of worrying about ruffians casing their victims, fret instead about the mass of zombies surrounding you, all of them seeming to derive what little movement they are capable of producing by dint of the power of the devices they stare at in the palm of their hand. If they are this brain-dead, then they are perfect receptacles for any suggestions or emotions their device is feeding them.

Cleansing Your Palate

Although observing the intellectual demise of our own species can be considered a form of entertainment for some, that practice is yet another distraction which diverts us from the process of reclaiming ourselves. Seriously, to abandon the bad habit of media overindulgence only to shake our heads in despair by watching others mired in the same unhealthy act is hardly better than sticking our heads back into the media feedbag. It is akin to deciding to go vegan and then to hang out at McDonalds staring at the other patrons (and there are lots of them there) still packing that poison into their bodies. Or for a person to forsake alcohol, only to hang out in bars watching everyone else getting hammered, shrieking with laughter and getting louder over time, until their peak has been reached and silence once more settles in the place like the dark sleeping night creeping up after a blazing sunset. In both of those instances, one would be inclined to give a pat upon their own back for unshackling those habits but that leaves one in a vacuum of sorts.

Admittedly, there is value in stopping bad habits but many find that if there is nothing to fill this new void it is tempting to revert back to past behaviors. For some reason, humans would rather continue unhealthy behaviors than find themselves bored; that is one of the reasons that replacing habits is easier than quitting a habit. If, instead of plopping in front of your favorite media-spewing device (TV, tablet, computer, phone, what have you), you are filling that time with a new activity (such as evening walks, reading a book, listening to music, or working out), you are more liable to stick with the change you want to make.

The Perspective of Time

If you are able to wean yourself off the media nipple, you may discover life to be brighter, more colorful, and vastly more interesting than you thought was possible. Even better, you will be less stressed and angry, less concerned about matters over which you have little to no control. Best of all, you will learn that major events over which the world is spending excessive amounts of time and energy really does not affect your own happiness or peace. You may even find yourself feeling empathy towards your fellow human, rather than imagining horrible disasters befalling those with whom you disagree.

For myself, I chose to swap the news flood for art, particularly music. Instead of stewing over the latest outrages and absurdities that floods the news cycle, it is incredibly soothing and therapeutic to sit for 30 to 45 minutes and let a work of art wash over you. As a fan of classical music and with an extensive collection of works by major artists over the last century, I have a wealth of beauty at my beck and call, something that even the richest humans only a century ago could not lay claim to.

My daily question is now: Have I spent my time well? My measure for answering that query is the sense of completeness and fulfillment I feel during the day. Of course, no one person can realistically claim to remain on an elevated realm every living moment of their life, but we are all quite adept at gauging how well we are faring throughout any period of our life, be that minutes, hours, days, or longer.

Logic dictates that what we consume shapes us. If we are regularly gorging ourselves on useless nonsense, such as what some idiot tweeted at 3 in the morning (these days, there are a lot of those types of idiots abounding), this bloating diet of outrage and absurdity leaves little room in our heads for any degree of sanity. In fact, some people seem to do whatever possible to vomit out any remaining logic and independent thinking they still have to better accommodate the stream of stupidity we call information.

Given the apparent limitless amount of information that is shoveled through every possible avenue of delivery, more is not better. Let us each define what is enough for ourselves, instead of looking to the businesses that depend upon our unceasing consumption in order to ring up their profits for their definition. Because they have already decided that “enough” is the dirtiest word in capitalism, they will never use that term nor encourage us to use of think of it.

Start seeing your life as enough instead of as insatiable. Awaken fulfilled each day instead of desperately grasping for the faucet of feckless facts and twisting the spigot full blast into your face. Trust me, there is a huge difference!

(originally posted 7/2/18)