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sleepwalking the day away…

September 12, 2012

If man is what he reads, what are we to make of the modern illiterate man? …reading little more than the daily free newspaper they hand out to us at the subway terminals.

Today’s Middle East tragedy reduced to 37 words on Page Three.

And while we might all be literate – in that basic United Nations  “let’s teach African children how to read” kind of way – we increasingly read less and less, our functional literacy rates continues to drop precipitously, and we increasingly take most of our ideas from images we see on our TV’s, computer monitors, or our cellphones.

I’m not sure whether, in the long run, an image-oriented society will be any worse off than a reading-oriented society (warfare was just as prevalent during the age of literacy as it was in any previous era), but I don’t like the immediate trends I see emerging around me.

I sat in a café yesterday, which was the first day of university; I sat right off the east side of the Dalhousie campus, surrounded by eager students, rapturous of this first-day-of-school-on-a-beautiful-September-day moment they were experiencing.

On some of their faces, I go back twenty-five years, and I can see, again, that first-day-of-the-rest-of-my-life expression, that leaves you grinning from ear to ear.

I am in one of those “intellectual” cafes. It’s not entirely exclusive to its own kind (there are a few middle-class squares off in the one corner), but the vegetarian-only menu and three dollar cups of coffee helps keep out a large segment of the riff raff.

Not one person, in the time I was there, could concentrate on their reading assignment for more than 5 minutes before they had to stop and look at their cell phone, or change the music on their Ipod, or type something into Facebook on their laptop.

Our attention spans are getting astonishingly low.

I see this every day in so many ways. We have gone from being hyper-aware on the savannas to being oblivious about the world around us.

Sure, we may have twelve things going on at once in our lives, and we’re all ever-so popular, but I also see pedestrians absently walking into traffic everyday.

I saw it in Toronto, and I’ve seen it here in the two days I’ve been driving around Halifax.

And if you watch cyclists enough, you’ll see that they are just as absent-minded. I saw a guy this summer (he was cycling in front of me as I was cycling home from work) go right through the red light at Spadina and nearly get completely cleaned out by a delivery truck.

And that wasn’t just a one-off. If you pay attention you’ll see cyclists doing it all the time. 

As for drivers, I’d say that at least 90% of us are driving on auto-pilot, 100% of the time. 

It’s the zombiefication of society. Mindlessly we walk around, perpetually jammed into our technologies, without regard or awareness for the world around us.

Soon, someone is going to wipe out a crowd of jaywalking pedestrians who inexplicably decided to cross on a red light – there will be much tragedy and some police officer will plead for us to pay attention.

Some of us will lament a time when we were more aware of our surroundings, but we will nod our heads and agree that those days are over.

 

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