Coming to grips with the deadly impact of information overload
It turns out that the late communications scholar, Dr. Neil Postman, was spot on: We are entertaining ourselves to death. Lest you anticipate yet another conservative op-ed article bashing “the other side,” worry not — and, please, keep reading. I actually think it’s a matter of survival. Like the rest of our citizenry, we who still hold to the Judeo–Christian worldview and are not ashamed of the unsurpassed accomplishments and contributions of Western Civilization are in the same predicament as our more left-leaning neighbors. We are all being lulled into an apathetic stupor by the ever-increasing amusements around us.
I am less worried about Novocain-induced mind-paralysis of radical leftist-socialists — in fact, a little more numbing of anarchists acting-out is desirable — and more concerned about constitutional conservatives. For we are as prone to the hypnotic nature of information-overload as anyone else. Maybe, more so. From 24-hour news cycles, podcasts ad infinitum ad nauseam, and the inevitable cult of conservative media celebrities (it happens whether they crave it or not), our engagement is not more but less. Information-gorging has created a nation of people who suffer not from attention-deficit disorder, but attention-fixated sickness.
And what are the consequences of the mind-numbing syndrome? There are at least three deadly results of media addiction (there are more, but I want to focus on those negative outcomes that leave us vulnerable to attack by the world’s leading dealer in mindless amusements — a serious and opportunistic China).
The first deadly result of attention fixation on media and amusements is moral degradation. As we are bombarded with a constant stream of entertainment, we become numb to moral values. We are desensitized to gratuitous violence, sex, and substance abuse. We begin to accept these behaviors as normal and no longer see them as wrong. Our children are growing up in a world where the most popular movies and TV shows depict graphic violence and casual sex (I don’t even need to address the other manifestations of our downward cycle of sin). The result is a generation that is, increasingly, morally bankrupt, with no sense of right and wrong.
The second consequence of information addiction is not only moral degradation, but also mental declination. By such flabby thinking, I mean to say the tragic erosion of critical thinking. As we are entertained by an endless stream of media, our ability to think critically is eroded. We no longer question what we hear or read. We accept everything at face value, without any thought or analysis. This makes us vulnerable to manipulation and propaganda.
Finally, amusing ourselves to death, even with likable and sometimes insightful conservative celebrities, produces the sad irony of socio-political idleness. In a word, we are so transfixed by the vicissitudes of our favorite opinion personality or conservative podcasting sensation that we no longer gather for righteous (or even just fun) causes.
Scholarship has demonstrated that the average American in the 19th century was far more involved than we are in church meetings, political and social meetings, civic organizations, and even hobbies and common-interest clubs. Moreover, our great-great-grandparents had to tote water from the well to the bathtub and a hundred other chores that are now on mechanical autopilot.
Now, to be clear, I don’t want to revert to either outhouses or giving up my favorite podcast. However, when I am so enthralled with the palace intrigue of conservative cable news personalities that I fail to exercise the necessary participation to keep our representative government going, then I have a problem (I’m writing because I do have a problem and have an inkling that you might, as well). How did old Ben Franklin put it? “Well, you have a republic if you can keep it.”
Our Founders left us a form of government that is as good as our biblical morals, our critical thinking and good judgments, and our involved citizenship. With the shadow of a vicious and threatening enemy now looming over the free world, it is time to not only be informed, but be involved. Our future as a nation might just depend on it. And that is no game.