So this is how it goes: Our modern environment of media saturation – particularly social media – makes us more connected and momentarily tuned in, but the overall advancement of human knowledge is mere dust in the wind.
The works of Shakespeare, with more commentaries than you could ever read, are at our fingertips, yet we reach for cats playing the piano. The garbola in what my mother calls the scandal sheets – “Royal couple in ugly divorce,” “175-foot shark eats yacht” – has escaped the check-out line at the supermarket. Just Google “end of the world” and stand back.
Decades ago, cable television proved to us that no facet of the human experience is too mundane to air. Now Facebook, Twitter and the like show that nothing is too mundane to share.
This is particularly rough on hard-core news fiends, or, as they might rightly be called, engaged citizens who are deeply curious about their community and world and want to know more and are willing to invest the time and brain power to make that happen. The catch is that now there is no end of knowing, though the end of knowing things of relevance is at least viewable on the horizon.
This used to be manageable. I read a couple of papers in the morning over coffee – this is essentially my concept of civilization – and catch the headlines at the top of the hour through the day. The less TV news, the better. Read a book once in a while. Pretty good formula.
That’s still a good foundation, but just as I can barely fathom the hours that people spend on Facebook – getting news, gossip or heaven knows what – I have to admit to overly frequent checks of the Twitter feed. In my defense, I have it set up for news, mostly, but there’s also Mizzou football, Scout stuff and that funny guy in that Canadian sit-com that I and I alone among 300-million-plus Americans enjoyed. Hey, everyone needs a laugh now and then. That’s another thing we don’t make in this country anymore, a good screwball comedy.
But we are drawn to want to know more and more. For my birthday, I got an amazing gift – tickets to a Los Lobos concert. (Yes, I tweeted this news.) I have loved their music for years, but there are really only two relevant facts here: I have about eight of their CDs in my car, and they will be here to make me happy Oct. 17.
So following them on Twitter serves what purpose exactly? Their addition of concert dates in Europe is lovely but unrelated to the two relevant facts listed above. Am I a better person – a truer fan? more hip? – for reading every detail? Of course not, but I’m also not unfollowing them. That’s how it works. We connect, and we embrace the random.
But it only takes 1.7 seconds to glance at and dismiss a Tweet and move on to the next thousand or so. What’s the harm, right?
The seconds and minutes and hours add up. Dust in the wind. Pity the deeply curious.
Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @Jeff_Fox or @Fox_EJC.