The waitress for our table was extolling a shrimp dish they offered. “O, no thanks,” I said, looking like I didn’t want to be poisoned. “You can’t eat shrimp?” Her expression indicated she thought I was very odd. “Too bad. I’m so sorry!” Although I assured her I had lived many happy and satisfying years without shrimp, she walked away shaking her head, unconvinced.
In the same way, when I say that I have not turned on the TV in months, I am looked at as being really odd. I don’t fit the norm. How can I live or enjoy life without chillin’ in front of the tube? Odd, indeed. I know there are those who have the set on almost 24/7, who eat, sleep, baby sit the children and make love by its flickering light. But five minutes of its noise, its subliminal message, is all it takes to jangle my nerves and put me on edge.
Being outside the norm in today’s society immediately makes me suspect. And a bit scary. We all like to sort people into known groups, things we can understand. Anyone who falls outside our classification system is therefore an unknown, and the unknown makes us nervous.
Since the advent of the television era, we have been captivated by watching stories or drama, whether fictional or news events, unfold before our eyes. Over time it became possible to tell stories with fewer and fewer words, creating and resolving an issue in a 30 second commercial. Gradually, our community attention span has dropped down from reasoned essays to short sound bites. Now if a video clip is longer than five minutes, we tend to skim right by. Too much trouble. Reading fell by the wayside as TV has consumed more of our time. “Read through three paragraphs describing the Norwegian countryside? Don’t have time. Just show me a picture.”
Much more is lost by the fall-off in reading than simply less library usage. Being acclimated to the picture story, we don’t have to think; the thinking has been done for us by those who filmed and directed the camera or drawing board. As an author paints a scene with his word brush, readers engage his or her mind with their own imaginations, developing their own ideas along the way. When I read about a fish breaking the pond surface in pursuit of a fly, I bring my own experiences and history to bear, seeing in mind’s eye something that may be a blend of two different locales, something I have co-created with the writer. But when we watch it on TV we don’t have to think; the pond is there before us. In effect, having a steady flow of pictorial input removes all need to exercise the mind or process ideas.
Spoon fed pictures and input lead in short time to a habit of no thinking. There is no exercising of process needed. We become accustomed to the lazy mind, taking in without realizing it the thoughts and beliefs of those who prepare the input. In no time “they” have become the controllers, and we, the unwashed, conditioned public, are the controlled. A society so conditioned is then easily led like lemmings to the nearest cliff.
I would rather be odd, thank you.