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News Feed Anorexia

July 26, 2013

My laptop’s MSN home page is a revelation.

I am so techno-lazy that I never select a homepage – I just go with what is there after someone in my office loads up my latest software vessel. But the latest load-up reveals a new level of information management.

It’s fashionable to declare the end of civilization as we know it with each bump and grind of technological and social interface. My new home page is MSN’s “News Feed”. The depth of its calculated info-porn titillation is astonishingly effective – it grabs at my eyes, despite my need to get to the software program I want to use.

After modern agriculture and medicine made most survive without 18 hour a day of hunting and gathering, empty-calorie cultural consumption boondoggling soon became  a viable prerogative.

40 years ago pandering to the puerile in all of us was, somehow, more guileless. Playboy offered my brother titillation without pubic hair.

Disco offered my generation a way to have absolutely zero substance and thought in our lives while we moved to the beat in petrochemically-derived clothing.

My children had separate hand devices to play video games, listen to music and text friends in a sequential race to blissful distraction.

But it seems we are beginning to merge mindless dissipation with absorbing information to a point where there is no distinction. Obviously the profit motive is force feeding the marketing of advertising as the binding agent of all the info flow, but the “get the click” imperative is, to me sinister in its silent seductiveness.

The new laptop’s software autopilot offered up MSN’s tech-quilt home page of “tiles” each achingly desperate to tease a click out of the passersby on their way to actually doing something. This antiseptic woven array of “windows” grimly exposes our cultural dissipation with unapologetic  cynicism.

“Secrets of Celeb Abs”, “Flavor Flav’s Restaurant Shuts Down For Good” is set alongside “serious” news and sports stories in side-by-side equanimity, equally weighted without irony.

When you bought Time magazine it did not have Playboy Bunnies within its pages. When you were drunk at the Disco, you were not watching Walter Cronkite. When my wife declares that a friend or a son is doing something as she is watching her computer screen and I out her as a stalker, she protests “It just pops up on my News Feed!”

“News Feed”. Is there a better bit of seductive disingenuousness? “News” like what underwear is being worn, “Feed” like “want a cookie?” There is precious little journalism, and virtually zero nutrition in our “News Feed”‘s.

You could make a case that idle chatter, mindless games of checkers and the 4th beer were our grandparents “News Feed” – but none of those worthless time dumps had the gloss of relevance or value  “News Feeds” offer up to justify the endless hours of spacing out looking at glowing screens.

I love the taste of alcohol – I would drink, and do, without any buzz being the goal or enhancement. Similarly any smoke being in my lungs makes me ill, so there is no value to me, even if the mind-altering state is nice. So finding out that the Kardashians have some huge scandal is simply not palatable to me – but news – about who is running the government, what science is discovering or what the weather will be is part of my intellectual diet.

I love the taste of most junk food too, and even the worst of junk food has calories. I am pretty sure potato chips and Coke could keep you alive for many years, but I think our “News Feed”‘s are offering up the same alternative to intellectual food as was offered to the lab rats that could substitute cocaine for nutrition, did, and starved.

Its not that we are eating empty calories when we ingest our “News Feeds”‘s, we are actually starving ourselves. Meth addicts are never fat if they have been addicted long enough. The only benefit to meaningless stimulation is found in the brain chemistry – like cigarettes – offering no high, no nutrition but a self-perpetuating state of need that’s only met by sucking in something that guarantees its necessity.

But we are not plugged into the Matrix. Yet. Checking accounts reveal bizarrely low balances. Scales reveal unbelievable weight gain. We may get angry at the bank or the digital read out of our gross tonnage, but they are not the problem. No one has kidnapped us and forced us to look at Snooki’s baby.

MSN’s “News Feed” is not the problem, but its success reveals a huge problem. Like the Star Trek aliens that almost took over the Enterprise with a mind-controlling electronic game that seduced the crew of the starship, the techno-psy-ops seducers of our attention spans and intellects prey on what we all want: consequence-free pleasure.

No one forces anyone to take the first drag, drink or hit – but millions do. However, to do my job, the enticing  junk-food “News Feed”‘s are ever-present. Not being Star Trek’s  unhuman Data I dive in, waste hours and feel dirty and stupid, and hungry for some intellectual kale. But I return.

Sex should make love deeper, wine should enhance the enjoyment of food, art should make the world around us come alive with the artist’s insights. However the Anthony Wieners of the world, alcoholics and porn addicts take enrichments and make them the perversely center points of their lives.

“News Feeds” can enrich – factoids can make thought deeper, questions more thoughtfully framed, perspective more open-minded. However we use what’s offered to become the reality platform for our lives. When we stand on a platform that is framed to sell products by clicking on cultural junk-food, or worse, intellectual meth, part of our humanity is slowly killed – click after click.

Any addiction destroys the capacity for humor, love and empathy, let alone productiveness. The oxymoronic depth of or cultural narcissism dug by 100 billion clicks is grinding down our sense that things outside our “News Feed” matter.

Like Karen Carpenter and every other anorectic we do not know we are wasting away. We are fine. We are happy. We know the royal baby’s name.

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