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Filtering by Tag: distraction

What To Do

Tom Sturch

1 Sturch Photo there is a place in the heart that / will never be filled / a space / and even during the / best moments / and / the greatest times / we will know it … –Charles Bukowski

There is a problem with the present moment. We all feel it, right? Something a little off? Let's look at it objectively. Let's hold it in our hands and gaz... oops. Did it slip away from you? Were you momentarily distracted? Did the weight of yesterday's to do list or the drift of waiting for your ship to come in throw you off balance? Cause you to shift your attention?

Maybe it will help if we hold the moment in some context. Consider Heraclitus' approach (in fragment 12) that the world is being rent apart and held together in the same instant. The implications are that by the time you read this next word your position in the universe will have spun, spiraled, and expanded on space-time in ways that make a sci-fi CG fabrication droll.

Consider in that little bit of time, your body (its own material the stuff of spent stars) has spawned and died, divided and specialized, coursed and throbbed under a force of life so ephemeral you only just intuit it before we're thrust in its power and desires like sudden rockets leaving parts of you stranded in an irretrievable past. And along with that moment that just got away, many more have streamed right behind it like a sea of lemmings into an empty abyss, carrying your short life with them.

Now, where were we? Oh! We're right where we left off!

Perhaps it is the product of logos (Heraclitus' word for the thing that holds it all together) to make pleasantly unfamiliar cloth of the too familiar unraveling thrum of creation. Perhaps he was bringing attention to the remarkable fact that things cast in so fierce a motion as ought to be flying apart, are not. Rather, they are secure. And, that the thin moment that seems abysmal and fleeting is the very moment we might realize that we are the stream aware, at once there and liminal, fresh and flowing, familiar and ever new in a miraculous cleaving of all things.

In music, the space where no sound is played is a called a rest. Rests fill space in the measure and are actually played. John Cage argues this point in absurdum in his composition 4'33” in which he plays four and a half minutes of rest. Another point he makes here is how hard it is for us to be quiet for even five minutes. How silence makes us uncomfortable and anxious, and how woefully unfamiliar we are with peace.

Bukowski makes no value judgments about the place in the heart. We think at first that the emptiness must be a bad thing, that the silence must be filled. But perhaps it's the place all things hold together.

Isolation in a Virtual Waste Land

Mary McCampbell


When I teach T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, I often start out playing this video that dismantles a track from Girl Talk, highlighting all of the secondary texts that the artist combines to create something “new.” My point is that Eliot’s 1922 masterpiece, just as postmodern as it is modern, is a mashup itself. Both Eliot and Gregg Michael Gillis (Girl Talk) are, as Roland Barthes would tell us, forming something supposedly “original” from “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” In The Waste Land, an anti-epic poem if there ever was one, the heaps of fragments indicate that in a world where “God is dead”, a world devastated by the nonsensical cruelty of war, there is no meaning or even ability to communicate. Eliot continually emphasizes human isolation, that the inhabitants of The Waste Land are “each in his own prison.”

A large part of the disorientation one experiences when reading The Waste Land comes from Eliot’s intentional failure to translate foreign languages or cite his sources. The definitive sacred and secular texts of powerful Western and Eastern civilizations are decontextualized and remixed, pointing to the meaninglessness of life without any defining narrative, a life in which the Author God is dead.

But anyone who takes the tedious trouble to really spend thoughtful time in The Waste Land will track down Eliot’s sources, read them in context, and finally see that Eliot’s poem has complex meaning via the connectedness of the themes in these carefully selected fragments; in a sense, the poem betrays itself. In tracking down sources, we begin to get a sense of the whole, we long more and more for connectivity.

But in the age of google, my students and I have all of these secondary sources at our fingertips; there is not much hard work required as we can even find hyperlink versions of the poem that instantly translate the texts for us and briefly summarize the entire plot of the multiple narratives alluded to in the poem. The internet allows us to move from the poem’s decontextualized fragments to disembodied, virtual explanations of fragments. Rather than going to the library (a communal experience), we can sit in our pajamas and google it all. What would Eliot think of this isolating, perhaps “unreal” (in his eyes) research? He has removed “original” ideas from their contexts, yet we depend on an invisible network of replicated images to give us knowledge, almost always out of context.

At the beginning of the poem, Eliot envisions one of Dante’s circles of hell as a picture of living but dead (“unreal”) Londoners walking home from work over London bridge: “Each man fixed his eyes before his feet…”. I often ask my students what they think Eliot would say today if he went to London bridge, rode on the tube, or sat in a restaurant and saw our eyes not “on our own feet” but on our iPhones. Would he say we have we created a rich new access to knowledge and community, or would he conclude we have simply mastered the art of distraction and isolation? Or would he say we have somehow accomplished both?

Self-Made Monsters

Scott Robinson

28 flappybird

Rolling Stone recently published an interview with Dong Nguyen, creator of the viral hit game "Flappy Bird". The interviewer, David Kushner, writes about Nguyen’s experience as his app surged in popularity:

He hands me his iPhone so that I can scroll through some messages he’s saved. One is from a woman chastising him for "distracting the children of the world." Another laments that "13 kids at my school broke their phones because of your game, and they still play it cause it's addicting like crack." Nguyen tells me of e-mails from workers who had lost their jobs, a mother who had stopped talking to her kids. "At first I thought they were just joking," he says, "but I realize they really hurt themselves." Nguyen – who says he botched tests in high school because he was playing too much Counter-Strike – genuinely took them to heart.

Nguyen’s intention had been straightforward: build a fun game for mobile platforms, easy to play and hard to master. But as his app went viral, it garnered a darker reception. People attacked Nguyen. They designated him an author of evil. Their vindictive reaction peeled back the app’s popularity to reveal an addicted and infuriated world where guilt was eschewed by appeals to ‘distraction’ and ‘addiction’.

Wrapped up in low-fi, Nintendo-esque graphics, Flappy Bird is a feathered fiend for the modern disposition. Its simplicity is infuriatingly addictive, and its difficulty chafes against impatience and demand for easy victory. It’s easy to love, but even easier to hate. And the app’s fallout, directed toward Nguyen, shines a spotlight on a basic human proclivity: our readiness to shift the responsibility for our destructive impulses onto anyone or anything other than ourselves.

Mike Carey and Peter Gross write in the fantasy series The Unwritten (Vol. 1), “We make our own monsters, then fear them for what they show us about ourselves.” For many, Flappy Bird provided that insight.

What’s your monster?