Observations by Rick at Optimal Wellness Labs.
The other day, I saw something that got me thinking.
A woman crossing a busy intersection, holding a cup of coffee in one hand, texting with the other, pushing a toddler with a forty-pound dog on a four-foot lead attached to the stroller (using the two fingers she wasn’t using to hold her coffee). Totally engrossed in her smartphone. Completely disconnected from her kid, her dog, the cars whizzing by, the other people crossing the street, everything. For her, nothing in the universe existed but the drive to finish that text, like that meme, post that insta-something, or send that email.
All I could do was stare in disbelief. She was a zombie. A total robot. Immersed in her handheld, digital reality—that had nothing to do with what was going on around her.
Who knows what was so important. Facebook? Instagram? Maybe she was Googling “How to cross the street while posting a video to Snapchat.” Whatever it was, it was more important than her kid and her dog.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I keep seeing these commercials where one of the big internet companies dramatizes what happens to a family when they lose their broadband connection for 20 minutes: they go mad.
Mom gets frantic because she can’t ‘like’ a picture on Facebook. Dad calls out the window, “Hey Internet! We’re over here!” like a castaway on a desert island yelling to a passing ship. The family finally reverts to telling stories of how grandpa met grandma.
Oh, the suffering. Oh, the humanity. Oh the tangled webs we weave.
Obviously the commercial is supposed to be funny. And it is. The thing is, though, it’s effective because it’s pretty darn accurate. A sad but true commentary on contemporary society.
Most folks have their faces buried in an electronic device 24/7, talking into their own echo chamber, hearing what they most want to hear, arguing about whatever they enjoy arguing about, staking out whatever position they feel like taking, telling themselves stories they already believe.
We live in a world full of noise, with very little true signal.
We’re overwhelmed by the tyranny of choice. There are always six things to do right this second. It’s insane. It’s literally hard to decide whether to answer the phone or drive the car. Pro Tip: put the phone down and drive. You feel relentless pressure and guilt for not doing the 37 critical things you know you should being doing right now.
It makes us weary and defenseless. Our brains ache from information overload. The barrage never stops: maps, texts, appointments, calendars, Siri, blogs, emails, app alerts, and push notifications telling us something absolutely has to happen five seconds ago.
I get brain freeze, like when I was a kid and ate too much ice cream too fast.
Back to the woman crossing the street doing a thousand things at once: she’s got to be exhausted by the time she gets to the other side of the intersection. All that noise, and no true signal.
Poor dog. Poor kid.
Back in Renaissance times, which led to the Scientific Revolution, which led to the Industrial Revolution, which led to the Information Age, which led to that woman crossing the street staring at her phone, old guys in robes had to either chisel words in stone or write them on parchment with ink and quill. Back before the printing press, every word had to be carefully considered.
There were no throwaways. Nothing casual got preserved. Words had power. If you were going to take time and energy to record something, you had to make sure it was worth it. You had to make sure the signal to noise ratio was very high. Meaning the proportion of useful information to useless information had to be worth the resources you spent on it.
The signal to noise ratio used to be 99:1. Now that anyone with an ‘enter’ key can broadcast their message, the ratio is more like 1:99.
It feels like there’s a conspiracy to drag us down, spread us thin, and slice us into a thousand pieces of stupid masquerading as smart. To reduce us to a series of likes, clicks, and meaningless electronic transactions.
I know I’m more than that—and I know you’re more than that, too. Right now I’m on a mission to reduce the number of meaningless clicks in my life. I’m changing my signal to noise ratio back to where it should be. And I’m glad you’re coming along with me.
That’s all for today. I just wanted to share this observation with you.
As always, hit reply and add your two cents (signal). I read every response I get.
PS. To my amazement, the woman made it across the street safely, even though she never looked up once. Even my dog stared in disbelief.