For more than three decades I've been at a loss to understand how people could have no interest in what's happening in the world around them. How can you not consume some form of news? Doesn't it drive you crazy to be unaware of what's going on? What if you miss something important? How can you tune out politics and elections so completely? Hell, by the time I was in kindergarten I felt weird if the paperboy was late and I didn't see the front of the Chicago Tribune before school.
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Sunday I woke up, opened my laptop, and went to CNN. Screaming banner headlines about another attack on police officers resulting in at least three deaths. I blinked a half-dozen times to make sure the morning fog had cleared. I half-read the main story about it, then paused. I opened another tab for Cap Friendly. Ooh, the Stars just signed Jamie Benn to a huge extension. Wow. $76 million. Well, that's the going rate for a guy who finishes in the top five or ten in goals every year. Dallas is gonna be good, real good, if they can find some more help on D. Close all tabs. Close the computer. I left the house and didn't take my phone with me.

I can't claim to have fully informed myself on every news story of significance throughout my life, but that was the first time I can recall just…not being able to do it. With the unbroken string of horrible, crazy shit that has cast a pall over the world in the last few months, and without the events in Dallas, in St. Paul, and (the first) Baton Rouge being fully digested and comprehended, there was no part of me able to even take in another story along the same lines. Throw in the major European/Asian terrorist attack of the week and I didn't just ignore the news on Sunday. I actively avoided it. For one of the only times in my life, something important was happening and I had absolutely no desire to know anything about it. I still managed to feel guilty, but I can imagine that with enough practice that feeling would fade. Eventually.

It was only one day, one story, one experience. It helped me to understand, for example, why people retreat into Pokemon Go and Netflix binges and baseball season and reality TV and Tumblr and anything else you can do to take your mind off of the real world these days. Paying attention to what's happening around us arguably is more important right now than at any point in my lifetime, and that makes it feel all the more…heavy. Taxing. It feels like trying to conduct the activities of a normal life, and to interact with other human beings in a normal manner, while dragging around a sack of bricks. It makes perfect sense to want to put it down, even if only for a while.

What's going on here in the United States and around the world bothers me. I have to admit, it bothers me a lot.

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It's bothering me more than I realized. It hangs over me like a cloud. Sunday morning in Baton Rouge was my limit, apparently. I want to be engaged, but 2016 is making it difficult to remain engaged indefinitely. I am (we are?) used to terrible things happening intermittently.

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So we train ourselves to handle short sprints. This year is like a marathon; no breaks, just mile after mile of slogging.

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Obviously I don't have the stamina for it, especially knowing how many miles we still have to go.
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41 thoughts on “AUGMENTED REALITY”

  • Ok. Here's my theory in brief. Up until about 100 years ago, anything that you heard about that was bad pretty much directly affected you. If someone said the river was flooding, it was probably going to flood your home. If someone said that 10 people had died in an explosion, you probably knew them. If there were rumors of a plague in the next town over, it was probably going to affect your town, and the people you knew and loved. The anxiety you felt upon hearing this bad news was legitimate, because it was probably going to affect you directly.

    Today, however, we have all the bad news in the entire world funneling into our minds on a daily basis. All the worst news is hand-picked and trumped up and pumped onto our TVs and computer screens 24/7. We're not equipped to handle it.

    We're not equipped to deal with the amount of anxiety that's produced by all the world's bad news being pumped into our systems every day. You either go nuts with fear and anxiety and do terrible things, or you unplug. One is significantly more healthy than the other, IMO.

  • In the old Bloom County comic strips back in the 1980s, when life got to be too much, the regulars went to the meadow for a dandelion break–they sat in the grass and looked at the dandelions. My own recent dandelion breaks include looking at pictures of huggy shaggy dogs leading small shaggy ponies and kittens and nature.

    Some people, however, live their lives running from anything serious. My mother, in her 80s, can tell you who the president is (she's not always sure who the VP is) and who's running on the Republican side, but that's about it for politics. She has no idea who her senator is, who her congresscritter is, what the big issues are of the county she lives in. It's not her age–she's always been like this. As Barbie once said, "Math's tough–let's go shopping!" Some people are just too lazy to put in the mental work.

    On Bill Maher's show last weekend he spoke about the vast population in America that doesn't know and doesn't care to know.

  • Buck up, it's gonna get worse before it gets better. This week you have to endure the Republican Convention, whose theme is straight outta Yeats:

    "The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are filled with passionate intensity."

  • Not to come over all conspiracist or anything, but WRT politics this is exactly how they want you to feel. E.g. Gingrich has been pooping in the pool for 25 years now, hoping that sane people will climb out of it. The more our politics becomes a screeching freakshow, the more normal folks will tune out. Add in explicit vote suppression and removal of barriers to money.

    I do feel the same way. I can't even watch He, Trump with the sound muted these days. But I intend to stay in there pitching.

  • Well, Ed, Wasn't it Locke who warned about unforeseen consequences?

    You helped shape the world into what it is today, so live in it. No wriggling out from under, you contributed, you're responsible.


    Maybe you will find this cheesy. Maybe it will make you cry. I don't know, I'm somewhere in between myself.

    Whatever. The words I find myself constantly returning to are: "drowning in the endless chatter of a world watching its own end." That seems to sum up our lives at this time in history. I find the feeling of helplessness leaves when I make room by shutting the chatter out. I am doing the same thing you are doing. It's just a way of not falling apart.

  • Chicagojon2016 says:

    I felt the same after Dallas. Suddenly getting a Black Lives Matter sign was important enough to actually take the steps to find one from a local group and we talked about hosting an evening open house with the neighbors and looking into national 'take back the night' and block party events.

    Definitely is an important time to pay attention and to interact with friends/neighbors/others. But yah, super hard

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    "Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half of the American people don't vote. One hopes it is the same half."

    –Gore Vidal

  • Carrwtoned:

    Do you own a fucking mirror? All of us help shape the world you simpleton. It's peopless like Ed that keep shitheads like you from being the new overseer class.

    If smug buffoonery was a virtue you'd be a saint; too bad, so sad, you'll just have to remain a douchenozzle.

  • Skepticalist says:

    I'm a news junkie and use TV for white noise all day long if nothing else. After half a day catching up….every 20 minutes….on the latest atrocity, I needed a break. I found a 35 year old episode of Johnny Carson. I can't think of anything farther away from "breaking news" than Johnny's interview of Marcel Marceau from about 1978….Gotta be my age.

    Of all the times that I delayed tuning in morning TV news was the day the World Trade Center was hit. I got a DVD for Christmas but it just wasn't the same.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    Some time ago, I hit rapidly diminishing returns with snark and schadenfreude. For a couple of years I pretty much tuned out.

    I've found meditation to be the only acceptable alternative. Even if it turns out not to be for you, I strongly recommend at least dabbling.

    The writings of David Korten remind me how important it is to stay connected, at least in some marginal way, even when it's almost unbearable.

  • Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do study history are doomed to watch helplessly as everyone else repeats it. Makes you wonder what the payoff is. Enjoy a much-needed break and don't feel guilty about it. I went canoeing yesterday. There was a cuckoo hunting caterpillars in a buttonbush. That has to be a good omen, I think.

  • Gerald McGrew says:

    Like all things it's a matter of balance.

    I'm a political and news junkie myself, but not so much that I obsess over it. When I heard about the Dallas cop killings, I read a couple of articles, watched a bit of CNN, got the gist of it all, and stopped there. No need to obsess over waiting for some new development (unless you're personally involved somehow); you'll get all that info eventually.

    It was the same with the truck attack in Nice. What happened, what's the current status, what are the unknowns, then I'm done until I check back in towards the end of the day.

    I think watching the news for "the latest updates" and/or pouring over websites to get as many reactions and analyses as you can is going waaaaaaaaay overboard. It's also possibly a symptom of our instant gratification culture. Its not good enough to eventually find out the exact body count, or how many shooters there were, or what group they were affiliated with….no, we have to know all that NOW!!

    Again, balance. Get the main points of whatever happened and then go get on with your life. I like to go play a round of golf, or do some work outside, or play some tennis with my daughter, or go out to eat with my wife.


  • I used to be much more of a news junkie, but how the news is reported is so poor, with outrage turned to max and context nowhere to be seen, I left all that behind and got most of my breaking news via the satirical news programs. But even that got to be too much. Not just because The Daily Show went to pot and Colbert bolted for network, but I can't even watch John Oliver or Samantha Bee anymore, and they're terrific at what they do.

    It's all too much of an open news fire hydrant. I just can't do it. If I need to learn about something I'll find reputable sources and get what I need and go as far as my interest takes me. I like to be right about things so I'm inclined to do some real digging when I'm proven to be mistaken about something. I've found it's much more pleasant. The daily grind is maddening and I guess I just maxed my outrage circuits.

  • "Sunday I woke up, opened my laptop, and went to CNN"

    There's part of your answer. Our national news outlets dispense horrible, biased, conventional-wisdom crap. Local TV news is mostly crime and car accidents. Why bother?

  • I've found the Great British Baking Show to be a great antidote to the angst of the day. It's nothing do-or-die; people see who can make the best cookie or scone or whatever the week's challenges are. The worst that can happen is that their entry is not the best one anyone ever had. The best that can happen is an example of how endlessly creative and inventive people can be. There's no screaming on the show, no bullying, and everyone seems to be a good sport. Yesterday I watched all I could (about 3 minutes) of Trump and Pence on 60 Minutes, then turned to see people making cornucopias containing all different types of rolls and Brighton Pavillions out of various bread doughs, and was able to take a deep breath and sigh out the stress.

  • @JustRuss; I tune in to local news to catch the weather and the traffic report. On the weekends they have pets up for adoption. Otherwise I agree with you entirely.

  • The comments here are always worth reading. I can't say that about any other site.

    "We remain hostages to a way of life determined to take us down with it."
    Woodbine. A tip of the hat to Sebastian.

  • I've almost completely stopped reading the newspaper. The San Francisco Chronicle, which is not entirely despicable, is now US$1.50 for the daily edition. That's a bit more than I care to pay for the comics page. Haven't watched television news in almost a decade and don't miss it a bit.

    Social media has become my chief news source; I hear about things through Facebook or the half a dozen blogs I follow, then search for more information on the stories that interest me. Fortunately, my FB feed is devoid of hammerheads, buffoons and whackaloons.

  • The occasional pause is only reasonable – it's not as if reality isn't still patiently waiting for whenever one feels a little more up to checking in on it.

    Which isn't to say it isn't a bit of slog. If it makes the situation more palatable, many of the more trying bits are people and organizations who exhibit willfully self-destructive behavior on such a scale as to be newsworthy do have a flair for destroying themselves along the way – not that they don't tend to make quite a mess on their way down.

    I'm particularly curious to see what January holds – the aftermath of an unsuccessful Trump campaign should be fairly interesting, in a variety of ways.

  • U.S. in the EU says:

    I've stopped following all the news. I cant take it. Since I've now have a 3 year old and a 6 month old, the news literally whas become too painful to read. dead people were children once, stupid adults making the world harder to live in…

  • HoosierPoli says:

    We're living in a golden age and everyone is too consumed by carefully manicured panic to notice it. It's human nature, I suppose, to ignore everything that's going right and focus on whatever miniscule problems present themselves. For me, I like to think big-picture: what are we going to be thinking about 20 years from now? What are the small choices with large knock-on consequences? Some jackass with a truck is a freak occurrence. Knowing all the details doesn't make us capable of better decisions. Be careful what you learn and don't believe everything you think.

  • Sane and healthy reaction, Ed. After a certain point, reading the news only makes you feel more terrified and helpless. When that happens, it's time to unplug and go outside.

    @Robert: Facebook wants you to click on things, because that drives advertising revenue. It tries to give you what you, personally, like to look at. This is not necessarily the same as giving you a realistic view of the world.

    If your friends are mostly sane, responsible, and well-informed people, maybe it's OK. But many millions of people do not fit this description. When they and all their friends rely on Facebook for information, we have a serious problem. People drop down a rabbit hole where they simply don't notice that Donald Trump is dangerously unqualified to be President; or that while she has grievous flaws as a leader, Hillary Clinton is not in fact the Wicked Witch of the West.

    @HoosierPoli: A single jackass with a truck is a freak occurrence. When he's preceded by some jackasses with guns (two separate attacks in Paris in the last 18 months), and followed by another jackass with an axe (yesterday, in Germany), it's a pattern. Panic is not a good response, but neither is complacency — at least, not if you live in a European country where similar attacks are likely to take place.

  • @Talisker; I jumped on the Facebook morass, then jumped back off. If the constant security breaches and privacy resettings without notice weren't worrying enough, the vile cesspit of ignorance and hatred certainly is (or maybe that's just my friends and family?).

  • @Katydid: My rule of thumb is never to put anything on Facebook I wouldn't be comfortable with the whole world seeing.

    With my Facebook friend network, I seldom get exposed to outright ignorance/hatred. I do see an awful lot of smug left-wing bubblethink, which is less bad but still not terribly healthy.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Ed reminds me why I used to hate watching news, and still hate watching local news in New York City. Most of news covers disasters and crimes—shootings, knifings, car crashes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, everywhere and anywhere so long as there's a good visual. Yes, it's news, and on a global scale it's always a reliable source, but it's also lazy, easy journalism.
    Do any larger points get raised in connection with these tragedies? Do they fit a larger pattern, perhaps? Hold your breath waiting for anything learned from these events and you'll lose consciousness. Even in the 23-minutes allowed for a half-hour news program there could be some larger picture sketched, some causation offered. But all we get is the barrage of bad news, pummeling us with suffering and pain. Who needs that? Join the club, Ed.
    Somehow TV doesn't have any resources for "Harvest of Shame"-type exposés that veer too far from static interview-type formats or opposing "expert" viewpoints examining the cover-your-ass differences of "opinion."
    Thank God for the internet, I say, and all its (mostly unpaid) analysts, looking for reasons behind the reasons. Though it may come too late for our woebegone, anti-intellectual culture.

  • As one of my weekly reads points out, we've been here before. Worse, actually. And while the desire to offload the weight is nearly unbearable, now's the exact time to pull more than your share, lest we want this shit to cycle 'round yet again…

  • GunstarGreen says:

    What if you miss something important? But is it actually important?

    Does it directly affect you?

    Is there anything you can do about it?

    If the answer to at least one of those is No, then why waste time and energy worrying about it?

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Once my leg heals more from last year's surgery, I need to find someplace to volunteer.

    I sit in front of my laptop all day, reading about horrors that just happened, or are about to happen – like the tRUMP candidacy.

    In the evening, I read historical mystery novels to escape.
    But when I try to sleep, all I can think about, is how shitty this country is becoming – or always has been, for other people.

  • It kinda amazes me to think of CNN covering the Black Death, or the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe. THAT would have been epic.

    When you consider the sort of ginormous catastrophes that litter human history – famines, plagues, folk-migrations, full-on ci.ilization collapse – we really are living in pretty tranquil times. That frame for the story helps me keep my perspective. That and avoiding CNN.

  • For the last few weeks I have been drawn to Yeats's The Second Coming: Turning and turning in the widening gyre The Falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
    It certainly doesn't fix anything but it serves to remind that the world has been screwed up before and yet we have somehow managed to survive.

  • Civilization has failed and the daily detritus we're witnessing is merely the residual backwash of a balkanized society marinating in learned helplessness.

  • In (I think) "Raise High The Roofbeam Carpenter", Salinger has Zooey say something like
    "I hate 1939"

    These are parlous times, but we have survived worse.
    1863 comes to mind.
    And the Detroit and Watts riots of the 1960s.
    And Katrina, with the cops on the Danziger Bridge shooting refugees.
    And the Tulsa pogroms of 1921.

    Read Tuchman's A Distant Mirror if you want to feel that today's world is not, in fact, the worst of all possible worlds.

  • Since I don't turn on the computer on the weekends and I don't have network TV, I generally miss the news on the weekends. It is a very nice break. Sure, I will hear about stuff, but only in passing from someone. As for my fellow citizens who wish to remain blissfully unaware, well, a lot of them are spending ALL of their time just holding their heads above water. They can't AFFORD to pay attention. Yes, pun intended.

  • Usually, I turn to outlets like the BBC or The Guardian if I want actual information with the news about stuff in the US. Much better reporting and less crazy outrage. Plus, all the left/right leaning bias that tinges some of the reporting over here is really minimized.

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