I have to be careful every time I turn on my computer and bring up one of the online news pages. I do this a few times each day, just to make sure I'm up to speed on what's happening in the outside world. But each one of these reality checks comes with a very serious risk.
I'm talking about the myriad opportunities available on the web for learning all the details about incidents and issues that are, for the most part, a complete waste of my time.
Just because a headline seems sensational doesn't mean the story needs my attention, and the headlines never stop popping up. Somewhere in America, something strange or outrageous is happening day after day. A family is denied admission to an amusement park because of a dress code violation. A student gets sent home for wearing controversial facial jewelry. A passenger is kicked off an airplane. You get the idea.
We now live in what I call the era of Instant Total Awareness (ITA). In the decades before ITA arrived, scenarios like the ones I just described wouldn't generate news coverage beyond the local media outlets. But with ITA in effect, every conflict down to the tiniest sandbox slap-down can be quickly uploaded to a national audience and generate thousands of reader and/or viewer responses.
I once read a great comic book tale about a monster from a distant planet that contacted an Earthling by tuning into TV signals. The creature actually came through the screen, grabbed the guy, and hauled him back to Planet Krogarr.
The creatures I try to avoid appear on my video screen in little boxes with captions like, "You won't believe this!" If I pursued every one of these video enticements I would disappear into a universe of cuddly kittens, perky puppies and bouncing babies all behaving delightfully. There are also countless astounding scoring plays from high school football games, international soccer matches, and other athletic events.
I realize these features have millions of fans and that's fine. I think most of them are in younger age brackets; those folks tend to have a more freewheeling approach to the inexorable passage of time. I remember that feeling but now, deep into my fifth decade of life, each tick of the clock is a resource I'm no longer willing to toss away without careful consideration.
Inevitably, I will lose touch with some aspects of modern culture. Headlines that only use first names are often a mystery. I still know that 'Jessica' probably refers to Ms. Simpson but 'Kris' is off my radar. So it goes.
I'm in no way slamming ITA culture or calling for changes. It's here to stay and I'm okay with that. I won't criticize any of the participants in those offbeat news stories, nor will I put down the cute animals and talented athletes in the ongoing viral videos. I take this moment to wish all of them the very best. But one brief moment is the only nick of my time they're going to get.