Matthew B. Crawford’s argument that
“‘the age of distraction” we’re living in is making it more and more difficult to ‘achieve a coherent self’”
presents issues and ideas worth bringing into a public discussion, but it is necessary to receive these ideas with caution. Properly weighing his propositions with their counterarguments will keep the conversation from becoming a simple one that might better succeed in instilling public fear than provoking intelligent criticism and awareness.
(Image via www.frontpagemag.com)
Opening up a discourse that encourages the general public to observe how they’re allocating their “finite executive attention” is a noble task—kudos, Crawford. That being said, I think a large number of lives in this era have benefitted tremendously from the constant communication and plethora of instantaneous resources we presently live with.
Crawford’s ideology regards skilled practices as the Rosetta stone to truly finding coherence in life and oneself; consider how this philosophy intersects with an interpretation of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” in which this creed seems to be rewarded. Mama and Maggie find a sense of self and a sense of generational unity in their ability to do rather than to simply know of these skilled practices.
(Image via www.quickmeme.com)
Walker presents the type of counterpoint that Crawford’s argument needs via the unlikeable character Wangero (Dee). Dee is an outsider to the skilled practices of churning butter and quilting—such an outsider that she takes physical elements of these practices to showcase as artifacts of her heritage rather than to use practically. Okay, fine… She is also a version of what Crawford’s argument cautions against, but just as we can’t ignore the flipsides of Crawford’s beliefs, we can’t ignore that Dee has obtained a new position in society. Perceived moments of disrespect and ignorance force the casual reader to be unlikely to read farther into Dee’s character, but a look at some of the basic facts about her personality show that she is an intellectual with aspirations. The American Dream even comes to mind.
Dee comes from the exact same household as Maggie and Mama. She could have stayed there, but “Dee wanted nice things;” she wanted to evolve (50). She could have been sent to school and decided it was too difficult for her. She could have failed. She could have remained illiterate. She may have become condescending in her quest for her greater, more intellectual lifestyle and I’m not condoning that behavior, but I do think that we should reward the side of this person who persevered and learned!–within this space, we should counter Crawford.
Why can’t being an academic be as much of a coherent version of self as is partaking in a skilled practice like churning butter or knowing how to kill and strip a cow? We need to not forget to reward the fact that in the face of all this stimulation and constant communication, people are adapting and evolving and becoming humans with skills that are useful for the direction in which the world is going. Not that we should be rid of cooks and welders and mechanics and farmers, but that society doesn’t require as many of these positions as it once did. And that’s OK. It makes room for people like Steve Roggenbuck:
And who is Crawford, or anyone, to tell him that he is not someone with his beautiful poetry? He has a coherent self. He inspires. He spreads happiness. He has a next step.
Now consider the relationship between Crawford’s argument and Joseph Harrison’s poem “The Site.” These two texts can easily be regarded as complimenting one another. They share an underlying murmur of fear that I think we should combat. As my professor, Dr. Norwood, mentioned in class, movies concerning future technologies are almost always disastrous; of course a story needs a conflict to be a story, but our society takes the evolution of cyber-realism to an extreme. We will create our own demise! Robots will overpower us! We’re becoming mindless! Slow down.
It seems these fears are quite alive in “The Site.” “We have all your information”… “You cannot leave”… “You have lost your will.” When did we sign this blood contract? I’m still perfectly happy to spend an extended period of time outside, sans technology or advertisements, as are most human beings. We are complex creatures that require a change of scenery, fresh air, activity, curiosity and sating of curiosity. We have desires. The fact that I browse Instagram while I’m on the john doesn’t mean I’m not going to read a book ever again or know how to ride a bike or make a paper airplane.
Executive attention may be finite but we are capable of an extraordinary amount of learning, and there is so much knowledge and experience we’ve gained from this era of constant communication. Think of all the people who have learned how to play guitar or make music because of Youtube videos. How many people have learned how to cook family recipes handed down for generations because of Allrecipes.com or the Food Network? Think of all the people, young and old, who have been able to further their educations, both skilled and intellectual, because of the internet and advertising and awareness. All of the teachers and students out there.
Crawford wants us to “reclaim the real,” but I think we are reinventing it.
We are not in a time of crisis. We are in a time of vast opportunity. Some people may fall down the rabbit hole and waste these chances, but all that just chalks itself up to social Darwinism. Not everyone can be saved, but perhaps instead of cautioning against all the media and technology at our fingertips threatening to dissolve us, we should be focusing on and teaching others how best to utilize these incredible resources.
(Image via www.quickmeme.com)
Yes, yes it is.