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laughter and forgetting…

July 25, 2014

If man is what he reads what are we to make of the modern illiterate man? Reading, as we do, little more than the daily free newspaper they hand out to us at the bus 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 drops precipitously, and we increasingly take most of our ideas from images we see on our TV’s, computer monitors, or our now ubiquitous 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), I don’t like the immediate trends I see emerging around me.

I sat in a café yesterday, right off the east side of Dalhousie University, surrounded by summer students. On some of their faces, I go back twenty-five years, and I can see, again, that this-is-first-day-of-the-rest-of-my-life expression, that leaves you grinning from ear to ear.

I look around at the groups of animated students chatting this way and that, and I quickly realize that I am in one of those “intellectual” cafes. It’s not 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 coffee helps keep out a large segment of the riff raff.


What I started out to say was that even amongst this crowd, I didn’t see one person concentrate on their readings 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.

Our attention spans are getting astonishingly low. It seems that we all have attention deficit disorders now.

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. Our attention spans are low even when we aren’t being distracted by our technologies.

I saw it in Toronto, and I’ve seen it here in Halifax.

And if you watch cyclists enough, you’ll see that they are just as absent-minded as everyone else. I saw a guy this summer (he was cycling in front of me as I was cycling home from work) go right through a red light at Spring Garden and nearly get completely cleaned out by a delivery truck. Or the woman I saw texting, who drove through a cross-walk, never seeing the people who were crossing.

And these aren’t just one offs. If you pay attention you’ll see people doing it all the time. Pedestrians. Drivers. Cyclists.

I’d say that at least 90% of us are moving through space and time on auto-pilot, 100% of the time.

And maybe this absent-mindedness wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself, but we are combining that absent-mindedness with a narcissistic consumption-first indifference to the coming environmental apocalypse, and with no memory of the past.

We are completely self-absorbed in the busyness of the present.

Now is the era of laughter and forgetting.

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