We were babysitting our daughter’s golden retriever, Billy. Since Billy is blind, we played the part of a seeing-eye human, trying to guide him away from immovable objects as he accompanied us on our work around the farm.
‘Over here, Billy. This way, Billy. Not that way, Billy. Oh no…ouch…poor Billy.’
Trees, tractors, barns – everything got in Billy’s way. Our job was to try to limit the damage.
It is a lot of work, being a seeing-eye human. But it has its rewards. Billy is an inspiration, bearing his affliction without complaint or self-pity. Instead, he bumps into a barn door and still holds his head up and wags his tail.
And he’s grateful to his companion. At the close of the day, after the sun had set and the work was done, we sat side by side in front of the fire.
‘Thanks,’ we could hear Billy say, in his dog language.
Meanwhile, it was an electronics-free Thanksgiving weekend. That’s right, we turned off, tuned out, unplugged…and went cold turkey, so to speak, on the whole internet revolution.
Why? Because not every technological advance is an undiluted benefit for everyone.
The first airplane flew near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. Scarcely 10 years later, they were using the contraption to drop bombs.
Factory production gives us much more stuff, but in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, it meant long hours spent by children as well as adults in ‘dark satanic mills.’ It led to pollution, congestion, the politicized urban proletariat, and many of the other nuisances of modern life. Even in Baltimore, we have trouble finding a parking space.
Even the Agricultural Revolution was a loser for many people. For many generations, farmers toiled from sunup to sundown. And when the crops failed, they starved. The bone record shows that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were better fed, with fewer signs of disease and wear and tear.
And now, we have the Electronic Revolution. Has it brought good or evil? The short answer is both.
We can now get all the messages we want on our iPhones and iPads. We can watch movies all day long…including dirty movies…and look up trivial facts, as well as send text and phone messages.
And we can find out ‘What Barbara Anderson Looks Like Now’…‘The 10 Must-See Things in Maryland’…‘Kaley Cuoco’s Coolest Birthday Ever’…‘Britney Spears’ Fashion Evolution’…and ‘Rare Pics of Princess Diana’…
And God forbid we miss the article explaining ‘Why Bisexuality Is Often Overlooked in the LGBTQ+ Community.’
Selling your eyeballs
The headlines are designed to be irresistible. But all you have in life is time. And the more you click, the more of it you give up. You can spend hours, days, years…biting on the clickbait.
And the ‘news’ is little different. Most of it is just drivel and mindless entertainment. For everything you ‘need to know,’ there are 99 stories that waste your time, misinform you, or are simply moronic opinions pretending to be ‘news.’
Besides, by watching your reading habits, the media can deliver the ‘‘news’ that is especially tailored to you – intended to titillate your prejudices and fantasies, rather than to inform or educate you.
The electronic media makes money by grabbing your attention…and holding it as long as possible. Your ‘eyeballs’ are then sold to advertisers who monetize it by trying to sell you something.
This is a model we know very well. It was practically invented by your editor when he began writing The Daily Reckoning 20 years ago. And it’s on display here at the Diary every day.
We write. You read (we hope). But it takes a whole army of professionals to attract an appropriate reader, manage a database, and send out these messages. It only makes sense, financially, if enough readers buy our newsletter products to pay the expenses.
But our rather naïve and transparent proto-model from 1998 has evolved into something much more sophisticated.
Media companies get to be very good at attracting your attention. And if you allow it, they take over your time, your thoughts, and your emotions.
You may have to click five or 10 times to find out ‘The Shocking Thing Scientists Discovered at Pompeii’; each click delivers another page of advertising. And then, the algorithms know – you’re a sucker for ancient history.
And the more time you invest…the more you care. About the gods of the Sumerians. Britney Spears. Donald Trump. The war in Syria. Climate change. Or Brexit. Or any of the other faddish fascinations of the electronic media.
A half hour goes by. Then, an hour. And the more thoughts you get from the electronic media, the fewer you have of your own. And the more your brain and heart are engaged by your iPad, the less you have available for the real people and things around you.
And before you know it, a whole day has been used up…with Billy still waiting patiently for us to take him out for a walk.
This past weekend, we disconnected. Did we miss something important? More likely, we might have missed something important if we’d stayed ‘connected.’
And there’s a more sinister side to the electronic communications revolution. Once your thoughts are controlled, it is fairly straightforward to control your actions too.