Amusing Ourselves To. . . I Forget

My brain is distracted.

I realized this when I was reading a book called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and I would hear the siren call of Facebook. I put the book down and lunged for my computer so I could look at stuff like this:


There, all better. Now what was that book saying?

Something about how distraction has always been around since the advent of electronic media, but:

(N)ever has there been a medium that has been programmed to so widely scatter our attention and to do it so insistently.

I knew it was happening to me. I saw it when trying to read The New York Times online and finding I could only make it through three paragraphs before losing interest and clicking elsewhere–usually on ads for the Chillow pillow


I can read the physical paper in its entirety as long as I can continue to check Facebook every ten minutes.


It’s probably unsurprising, but reading print materials activitates different parts of the brain than reading online. For instance, as you read this, the part of your brain that regulates break dancing has been stimulated. That book readin’ activiates them language, memory and visual processing parts. Now you tell me, which is better?


I’ve experienced the moment when it feels like the whole world recedes as I look at a Buzzfeed list of the craziest bras ever created. That’s what the Internet does. It grabs our attention only to scatter it like a bra made out of birdseed.

In Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death (disclaimer: I tried to read this online and made it three sentences in before giving up. I’m reading a print version now), he brings up the two varying views of the future: George Orwell’s and Aldous Huxley’s. Orwell predicted a totalitarian world where information was scarce. Huxley’s world was one of excess where people willingly gave up their autonomy in exchange for their distractions. Information was everywhere.

I wonder whose view is more spot on?

snowdenkimyeIt would appear that the notion of the U.S. government collecting the phone records and Internet searches of millions of Americans, an act that is in direct violation of the 4th amendment, would be somewhat troubling.

Shouldn’t it be?

I don’t know because while I was looking up the NSA story, I was sidetracked by a video of Justin Bieber pissing in a mop bucket.

My journey ultimately ended here:

facebook3There, all better.


  1. Impressive as always. It took me three tries to get all the way through the post though. From what I understand, Kanye never said he wouldn’t change the baby’s diapers. Also, another pro football player has been arrested. The lady who played the wife on the King of Queens has given something up, but I’m not sure if it was red meat or alcohol.

    1. I believe she gave up Scientology, which is the same as giving up tinned ham. At least, I think so. I might have heard it in a Justin “Mop-Piss” Bieber song during the evening news.

  2. I have to admit it’d been a few years since I read “Brave New World,” so the comparison of the World State’s culture to an Internet-addicted one took me by surprise. The fact that Huxley wrote his book well before the Information Revolution made me question that at first.

    I had to find a summary online (three guesses where; yes, I do go to them in a pinch…) and have to say there may be something there to it. When I last read the book there was no Facebook to compare the novel with, and frankly reading “Brave New World Revisited” a few years after that made me distance myself from the first book because it felt like Huxley was taking pot shots at Orwell out of spite as he justified his own dystopia. But now that some of the trends noted in “1984” showed that they could not play out as surmised, there may be something after all to look at.

    The big takeaway from this is, thanks to your piece, I may be doing some re-reading this summer with a new set of eyes. Time to find my copy to re-read, maybe this time alongside some Marshall McLuhan for cross-note taking…

    1. Definitely add Amusing Ourselves to Death to that list. Although written in 1985, it’s still very relevant. Or you could watch that Justin Bieber video. That’s also relevant.

    1. Damn straight. I feel very much in the dark because my sister-in-law does not Instagram her food and I feel like I’m in a totalitarian regime.

  3. your post was very informative and…what did kimye name the baby again? googling it. oh, yeah. for some reason I feel like breakdancing. can’t touch this!

  4. I just learned from one of my helpful readers that Kim Kardashian named her spawn “North West”. How did I not know this earlier, what with my fabulous Internetz reading ability? I read a book called The Digital Diet. It was about not using the Internetz so much. I think. I failed at that like I do most diets. The Shallows sounds like my kind of book because I like reading about what not to do and then doing it anyway. For instance, Squirrel is still on Facebook because it’s just too tempting to keep filling in surveys about Fisher Nuts and getting updates on reality TV. He is now friends with Jethro from NCIS.

    Also noticed the ear vac thing. I love their commercials where they jam the q-tip in so far they hit their brains and shout OUCH!

    1. I LOVE those ear vac commercials because they feel so real…maybe it’s because I use scissors to clean out my wax and jab so hard that I release some brainfluid. That would also explain why I watched the mop bucket video. The Shallows is very good. I can almost remember it except that I read very superficially now.

      1. I know! They jam it in there, take it out, and stare at it in horror. Cracks me up every time. People on infomercials are the most incompetent people ever. They can’t make salads, or pour milk, or hang a picture . . .

  5. I’d like to say I loved this post, but I got so distracted by the links and my twitter feed and my goodreads updates and my… that I have no idea what the hell either of us are talking about.

    But Kudos for the Breakin’ image!

    1. By all means Instagram that ham sandwich, Becky! Life is too short and fleeting and how else will you remember what you had for lunch on a Friday?

  6. I think I had something to say about your post, but I forget what it was. I think my brain is fried from sleeping on hot pillows. I need a chillow. And an air neck-stretcher. And a new mop bucket, because, eww. And now I need a new compass that doesn’t have anything West on it, because, eww. And there was something I was gonna say. What was it?

    Oooh, look, a lovely little inanity on Facebook, crossposted to Tumblr and Pinterest and Instagram, and Tweeted just to be sure everyone saw it.

    I was gonna say something …..

  7. I think Orwell and Huxley both manage to be right. We are willingly giving things to be inundated with more information, but it’s the wrong kind. The right (and accurate) information is actually quite scarce. Ask the average person what a GMO is, and they don’t know. Not only because their brain was shutting down after using their Chillow, but because I don’t think government really wants us to know.

    1. GMO is the name of Justin Bieber’s latest monkey, yes? Neil Postman’s view was all facets of public realm–religion, politics, news, education–have become entertainment. I would say that’s pretty spot-on, and he wrote that shit in 1985.

  8. My commentary while reading your post ran pretty much like this…”Oh my, I do that all the time”, Crap! That happens to me too”, “She’s watching me again”, at which point I start looking for the cameras…I am screwed.

  9. I owe my entire career to Google. I was the second person in my office to know about it. And I kept coming up with brilliant information in record time. I am sure I will be googling when I die, of corse while looking up “symptoms of a heart attack”. Because of course I won’t remember what they are.

    Hilarious post, S7.

  10. If I spent as much time exercising as I do allowing myself to indulge distractions and look at crap online like clicking the link in this post to watch Justin Bieber piss in a bucket, I’d be fit. Instead, my ass spreads a little more the more I sit and look at crap online. The Internet truly is a blessing and a curse, more of a curse lately as I consider ass-spread and Justin Bieber’s contribution to my own condition.

    1. I wouldn’t worry too much. At some point we will evolve into the blobs from Wall-E and drink Slurpees while lounging on our hover chairs. It sounds like paradise.

  11. Love this post! I think the distractions are by design so we don’t realize that we are slowing moving towards a blended Orwellian-Huxley dystopia. Fortunately, I don’t have to watch the banality of the reality shows since you do it for me and give me the cynically funny recap. I prefer to read and lately that’s been books and just reread 1984 a week ago. I do enjoy the occasional scripted show and recently an episode of Perception gave me my new favorite line and my excuse for not owning a smartphone: “Every time your smartphone dings, you become a little dumber.”

  12. So wonderful, and true. And sad. But then I wouldn’t have my bathmat that look like its bleeding when you step on it. You are brave to admit to your distractions. (I am checking my phone as I type…one internet hook up isn’t enough it seems.)

  13. How very true. I had a near mental breakdown last week when the Internet at my office was down. I didn’t need the Internet to complete my job that day – I was just writing based on documents I had already printed out — but just the thought of just quietly writing without being able to check gmail/facebook/wordpress every 10 minutes literally gave me the shakes.

  14. Damn. I’ve been trying to get through this post for 5 days, but holy top ten most adorable cats with bread on their heads. Sorry.

    P.S. – Chillow?! Thanks a lot. Now I need one.

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