Sunday is usually the day I sit down and plan for the upcoming week. Today, however, I don’t have the energy. I just feel like a sloth.
Today is the 41st anniversary of my grandfather’s passing. He was the singular most influential person in my life. I don’t like to dwell on the past, but for him, I will gladly make an exception. I wonder who I would have become had he lived longer. I feel his presence, which is perhaps why I feel compelled to live by his ideals. Even today, in days of distress, I converse with him. And when I do, I find answers. He wouldn’t have approved of my laziness, even on a Sunday.
Undoubtedly, the events of the last week have left me depleted. The past seven days have been a reminder of the ways our communal anxiety is abetted and turbocharged by social networks and other dopamine inducers.
To my mind, the presidential elections offered a very sobering report card for technology platforms and media in general. Given that Facebook is Facebook, their failures fail to surprise me. But the mediocre responses to the rising tide of misinformation from the likes of YouTube and Twitter don’t bode well for the future. Misinformation — from fake news to deep fakes — is now part of modern existence. So, our platforms need to start thinking about meaningfully combatting these problems at network speed.
Of course, I shouldn’t blame just the platforms. Traditional media was flooding the proverbial airwaves with minutiae and trivialities to the point that it all felt like a circus. The headlines have become decidedly clickbaity — anything to get attention, which is becoming ever so fractional.
This race to fill the empty spaces, drown out the silence, and eschew brevity has made media the big loser in this election cycle. Sure, the ad revenues might show otherwise, but fast media is as terrible for the mind as fast food is for the body. I got to a point where I couldn’t tell which outlet I was reading and why. The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harpers, Reason, The Spectator — it all became a word cloud. In the end, I decided to take cover and tune out.
Election results matter to every citizen, including myself. And I didn’t want those results drowned out by noise. I typed “US Elections 2020” in Google and got a simple page with just the facts and data. I checked the page three times a day, and that was enough. Occasionally, I would check C-Span.org for video streams. I muted everything and everybody else, including half a dozen magazines to which I am a subscriber. One article that stood out for me, though, was a Tom Nichols piece in The Atlantic — it is a sobering piece about a country divided over what future it wants to build.
For the past few days, my life has been a version of Marie Kondo’s show. I am purging stuff pretty aggressively. The boxes for donations are piling up. The hardest part has been giving up books. I love old-fashioned paper books. I will read on a Kindle or an iPad, but there is nothing like paper. I just started re-reading Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. All the movies and television adaptions don’t do justice to the story.
My hope for the rest of the weekend is to do nothing. Just read the book and listen to Nils Frahm in the background. Maybe some Chinese food for dinner would be welcome when the time comes. But until then, “Hello, Hercule!”
November 8, 2020. San Francisco