There were lots of neat replies to my previous post. There were so many good comments — not all of them positive — that I thought I’d elaborate:
I certainly have nothing against LeBron James, and I certainly don’t fault basketball fans for being interested in his announcement. You should be interested; following basketball is one of those things that gives you joy. It’s a favored pastime, it engages your intellect and your enthusiasm, and you like talking about this stuff with your friends.
I’m just as interested in news about the tech world (because that’s my job as well as a personal interest) and the comix world (because I’m simply a fan). I’m just as interested in news about Gail Simone’s next job or the poor bastard at Microsoft who greenlit the Kin as a basketball fan is in news about LeBron James’ next job. There’s nothing wrong with that; nothing at all.
The point is that there are certain stories — like “what’s LeBron’s next move?” — that somehow start off as news stories and become news products…and the electronic media sells (say) the Tiger Woods infidelity story just as competitively and aggressively as Coke and Pepsi sell colas. It’s something that news producers who work for TV and the Web have to struggle with. Viewer attention is both (a) fleeting and (b) very, very valuable. I think segment producers at CNN and FOX are just as sick of the latest Lindsay Lohan story as anybody else. But they know that if they don’t spend six minutes of every hour talking about it, viewers are going to turn to another channel that will.
Result: over-marketed stories that will follow you wherever you go for news.
There was a point when I simply became aware of how much time I was spending learning about stories that I had no interest in, and which couldn’t possibly influence my life in any way. I resented that I was being force-fed this useless information. If I wanted to watch a half-hour news program, I had to see three minutes of interviews with the judges at JonBenet Ramsey’s final beauty pageant and hear their opinions about how well she posed to “Achy-Breaky Heart.” That was the deal, it seemed.
The Buttafuoco shooting was the first time I sort of blinked hard and realized that I’m an idiot.
(Well, yes: I already knew I was an idiot, of course. Many people had been helpful enough to point that out to me. I just mean this was the first time I realized I was an idiot about this particular thing.)
As we so often do, I’d forgotten that (oh…right) I’m actually in control of my life. Instead of passively sitting through the next four minutes of speculation about Gary Coleman’s will, and complaining about how pointless it is, I could change the channel. It’s a pain in the butt, because the story’s only a few minutes’ long and the story after it might have been interesting and relevant to me. But it’s something that I can do.
Instead of thinking “I’m really not particularly interested in hearing about Mel Gibson’s latest Really Stupid Drunken Comment…but I’ve already read every other article in this copy of ‘People’, and the captain hasn’t said it’s OK for me to turn on my iPad yet,” I can choose to close the magazine and enjoy five minutes of peaceful thinking, without any distraction or visual stimulation.
The amount of background data noise that surrounds us has increased and intensified every year since the Buttafuoco Days. Can you remember a moment in the past 24 hours when you were completely free from outside stimulation? Is constant immersion in this kind of information like living under high-voltage power lines? Maybe we’ll have no idea of the damage this is doing to us until the damage becomes irreparable.
Redefine all of this unnecessary information as “distraction” and then ask yourself the question again. If you’re spending every waking moment distracting yourself…what are you distracting yourself from? What is your brain clamoring to tell you, if it were ever to get your full and complete attention?
An experiment: The next time you have a little time to kill and you instinctively go to your phone to launch your email client or your Twitter app or the web browser, launch the Clock app instead. Set a countdown timer for the amount of time you were going to spend in any of those activities (or ten minutes, whichever is shorter).
And then, put the phone in your pocket and do nothing until you hear the chime.
The thoughts that will come to you will probably be very surprising. Often, it’ll include thoughts that have been clamoring for your attention for days. And I’m not talking about reminders to pick up your dry cleaning, either.
I openly admit that when I was a lad and first I defined the Buttafuoco Point, it was a somewhat smug response to the inundation of needless media and noise. But at this point, I think of it as one of the most valuable user-installed upgrades to my life software.
I benefit far more from three minutes spent listening to my ceiling fan with my eyes closed than I do from the same amount of time spent reading about Lindsay Lohan’s dad’s reaction to her prison sentence.