Empire of Static and Noise

Earlier today, I realized I’d been feeling washed-out and uncreative. This blog was lying fallow, and my fiction inspiration was as dry as California underbrush.

If I had a cause, a central idea, a unifying point to what I’m doing, then I would be so much better off. I’d have my writing drive back, my thinking drive back, my mojo back. But all I have is noise.

And so it occurred to me: noise. Maybe my main point for now is noise.

I don’t mean noise as in decibel levels, like the neighbor’s barking dog (though that’s certainly a part of it, just ask Schopenhauer or the New York Times. I mean noise as in “signal to noise ratio.” I mean static.

Like it or not, as modern Americans we live in an Empire of Static and Noise. Televisions blare from every corner. The instant gratification of a thousand status updates bubbles up through our phones like swamp gas.

Those same phones hold a variety of video games and grant access to a wider Internet filled beyond any one man’s imagining with articles, blog posts, and endless arguments across a multitude of forums.

We like our lives like we like our hash browns: scattered, chunked, smothered, covered, and served with coffee at three a.m. And even if we don’t like them, that’s how we live them.

  • How much of what we experience serves not to carry meaning, but to obscure it?
  • How much of what we experience serves not to inspire or provoke new thought, but to scatter our attention so that we can barely think?
  • How much of what we experience serves not to challenge us to new levels of compassion and humanity, but to distract us from the hard questions?

A very wise man once said, “Don’t watch the hand with the wand. The trick is in the other hand.” How much of our lives is just a wand waving on a stage?

I can’t answer that for you. But the answer for me is, “Too much. Way too much.”

So that leads us to the question, “What do I do about it?”

The first thing, the absolute first thing I have to do is start self-enforcing an earlier bedtime. I’m not getting enough sleep, and so many studies have proven that’s bad for you that I don’t even feel the need to cite them here (the Earth is also round, and it orbits the sun, by the way).

Basically, sleep deprivation makes you stupid, and I’ve been neglecting my eight hours since at least when my daughter was born.

Beyond that, I’m going to have to take a fast from certain technology. I will have to use Facebook only to check important messages, and encourage people to call, text, or email me instead.

I will have to stop reading Slate and all online forums. I will have to stop following all those interesting links in the articles that I do still choose to read.

Will this be permanent? I doubt it, but it will have to be for a while, at least. Addicts don’t moderately use, and I’m pretty much addicted to new information and short, nonfiction articles.

I’m going to limit not only my “active” television watching, but my “passive” watching. If Katherine is watching TV and I’m just passing through, I’m going to have to force myself to keep passing through, not stop and “just watch this scene” … and be there half an hour.

I’m going to have to uninstall the games from my Kindle Fire. It’s great for media, and it has potential for productivity, but I won’t get anything done if I’m feeding Om Nom candy.

I’m going to have to clear out some space and time in my life for thought, for reflection, for praying and writing and daydreaming.

I think I’ll be smarter and happier. I think. Heh. At least I’ll be thinking again.

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Hunger and Thirst for … Distractions?

This morning, the preacher talked about the beatitudes (from Matthew 5),  especially verse 6:

“Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (NASB)

To hunger and thirst for righteousness.  That’s an amazing thought.  Most of the time, I have to push myself to read the Bible.  Most of the time, I have to push myself to take the time and really thing about my own behavior, my own attitudes.

Yes, writing draws me, because I have to write.  It’s just something I do. It’s been a substantial part of my self-identity for as long as I can remember.  But I do not really hunger and thirst for righteousness.  I honestly don’t hunger and thirst for much.

And I got to thinking: why?  Why don’t I hunger and thirst for righteousness?

Honestly, I think it’s for the same reason I have trouble getting any school work or writing done after I come home from work:  I get distracted.

Now, part of the “distraction” is my wife. But she’s not really a distraction, she’s my wife.  Spending time and attention with her is a top priority.  But other things distract me, too.

Earlier, I said I was selling my X-Box 360 to raise money for World Vision.  I’ve sold a couple of games so far, and raised $13, and I’m pretty sure I’ve found a buyer for the system itself, which will raise more.

Thinking about the X-Box and how much I get distracted, and how easily I get sucked into a game if I do start playing one, I started to say “I’m selling ALL my video game systems.  This is taking up too much of my time!”

Yeah.  Okay.  Am I shutting off the Internet?  ‘Cause I waste a lot more time on the Web than I do on video games in an average week.  Am I going to shut that off?  I write a BLOG.  Am I going to shut off the TV service (not for two years: we just signed a contract with DirecTV)?

The point is, the game systems aren’t the problem.  The TV isn’t the problem.  I Can Has Cheezburger is not the problem.  I am the problem.

I have a problem managing my time and priorities in a way that is truly Godly.  I have a problem focusing on that which is perfect, that which gives glory to God.

I want the distractions.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because true contemplation and communion with God is hard.  Maybe it’s because real study brings me up against things I don’t like.  Maybe, maybe, maybe…

We all have thorns in our flesh.  This is one I need to struggle against.  I need to learn to fight the distractions.  Only by fighting back can we learn to love righteousness, can we learn to hunger and thirst for it.  And only then will our hunger be satisfied.