The Sanely Funny Humor Magazine

 

DAILY LIFE AS MASS HYSTERIA

Not so long ago, daily life was reasonably relaxing.  

We could wake up to a new day, experience its variety in a settled way, and fall asleep with a serene smile of satisfaction. Once in a while, news reached us, usually in the passive form of the daily paper or, rarity of current rarities, as a handwritten missive. We knew there were a radio and a TV somewhere in the house, but they were, compared to today’s overheated outlets, invitations to participation that we could take or leave.

Now, however, as our eyebrows fret, our lids twitch, and our fingers tremble on various keypads, we must admit that such mental placidity is no longer our usual daily possession.

We may wake up to the usual jar of a cranky alarm, as most of us have since getting up in the morning became an urgency, say, in kindergarten. But now the alarm is only the starting bell to a tumultuous day that leads most of us to experience what might well be characterized as mass hysteria – or, in a broader sense, as our wired world gone “haywired.”

Of course, a great deal of our internal tumult may be ascribed to what we might also call mass-media hysteria – the daily tempest in a teapot, where the various news outlets labor to stir up a sufficient storm to retain our interest.

They do face a daunting problem: the way history unfolds. Simply put, it does not occur at the rate of 30 minutes of important tidbits a day or as 100 pages of printed significance.

In fact, one day a world history will likely reduce the entire 20th Century to a paragraph, such as: “The 20th Century began with World War I, which, as a result of inept peace accords, led to World War II, with smaller wars fought in Korea and Viet Nam. The century was also characterized, in terms of lasting significance, by vastly accelerated developments in science and technology – developments that futurists imagined one day would free people from the 40-hour week, apparently failing to take into account the preferences of efficiency experts and assorted devotees of the bottom-line, who would realize that the technical innovations actually made it possible for one person to do the work of more than one person. So it is fortuitous that many of the advances were made in medicine, because the resultant populace would develop an increasing need for such salvations as muscle relaxers and defibrillators.”

Of course, in addition to dealing with the steady sensationalizing of the commonplace by the news media, we also find that other high-tech enhancements contribute to our everyday hysteria. For example, as we drive down the road, we attempt to place a call on our cell phones and, when we look up from the keypad, we notice that we very nearly steered off the road or plowed into the car in front of us, or perhaps nearly ran over somebody who, while listening to an iPod, failed to hear our frighteningly close approach.

To keep the causes of our daily hysteria brief, mainly as reminders we can all shake our heads in agreement with, we note only two more frantic items. First, there are the unexpected hours we spend working at computers, where, at this early stage we all grudgingly acknowledge that “software is software,” the usual excuse for why an assortment of puzzling glitches help to bestir our gradually distracted mental states. Second, customer-service delays, in which phone menus ramble on so long they intimate, to our hyperactive mindsets, just how long eternal life might be.

All of which reminds us of the oft-told joke about a wired soul who’s so manic he or she is standing in front of a microwave, shouting, “Hurry up!”

It also reminds us of our own selves as we sit behind a few cars at a traffic light that turns green and the cars in front of us don’t budge until our impatience makes us ask if the drivers are perhaps asleep at the wheel, when they may actually still be experiencing a remnant of the comparative somnambulism that once constituted the usual daily life.

Naturally, there are personal consequences of our hyper-wired lives, mostly in terms of tension headaches, heart attacks, and the general list of afflictions that we seem quite willing to accept as the price of being on top of things.

But what about the simpler souls out there who have the travails of the world heaped on them every day? How can they possibly navigate the troublesome waters? We suspect, by the hunched indifference with which they seem to plod on that many of them have been made numb or driven into defensive taciturnity while others simply shrug off or only half-hear the steady assailants of their sanity.

Of course, beyond our individual discombobulations lurk the national consequences of our daily hysteria, which are not so easy to accept as personal frenzy as usual.

For example, it used to take quite a bit of time to get the original Colonists to hear about something and decide to take action. So the state of the union was, by default, somewhat stable. But now that we all hear about events at the same moment and can react to them immediately, we may be playing a pretty risky game with the national continuance.

We might, for instance, see the nation, as it functions in impulsive unison, as a 50-piece puzzle, lying on a card table that is being shifted this way and that, with the pieces sliding from side to side and, at times, drifting precariously close to the edge, a state of affairs that cautions us that the puzzle may one day slip all the way off and shatter.

Just to multiply our cautions, we might also see our promptly responsive populace as a crowd on the field in a stadium, where an announcer with a bullhorn yells the latest worldwide tribulations at us and we are expected to react with “ooh’s” and “ah’s” and various swayings to and fro, until one day, in an excessive response, we all sway clear out of the stadium and off a nearby cliff. I’m sure none of us wants to hear our nearly 300 citizens say ouch simultaneously.

Question is, can we possibly find peace while we retain our connectedness and the benefits of our proliferating microchips? We might hope for the unlikely – for example, that the news media will finally have mercy and become responsible in terms of their effect on our rightful contentment and the national stability, but as long as “no crisis, no interest” is their ruling principle, we ought to admit that we can’t really expect a change. In fact, given the media’s current bent, if we lived a perfect world, the headlines would no doubt dismiss our individual and social joys to lambaste us with a tragic development of even the slightest magnitude, such as to trumpet that the ruler of Sudan has, unfortunately, developed a hangnail. Then there are the other appurtenances of our high-tech lives that keep us mentally frenzied.

Whatever can we do? We can only really change our attitudes toward the tempestuous world that impinges on our inner peace.

How on earth can we manage that? We can gain philosophical distance on it by understanding that there really is a difference between media life and daily life. For instance, when we walk outside in the morning, after watching a night of mayhem on TV, we may note that there are, surprisingly enough, no Swat teams rushing through our lawns with assault rifles and no high-speed car chases screaming past our driveways and inadvertently clipping off our mailboxes.

We can, in short, prize our true daily lives so much that we determine to separate them from complete coincidence with mass-media life – to refuse to allow the circle that represents our personal lives to be totally overlapped by the circle that constitutes the usual mass-media hysterics.

Actually, we only do justice to our personal lives and allow the possibility of enjoying them enough to be glad we were born when we protect them from being overrun by the random input that impinges on and can decimate them.

Finally, when we do allow the cacophony of media and the mind-bending processes of our high-tech gizmos to enter our personal sanctums, we may determine to do more than just react to them. We may decide that we will merely take them in and process them with some perspective on their true importance to us. We can thereby make up our minds about them in peaceful prudence and express, if we wish, our opinions and perform the actions we deem to merit our volition.

With these few steps, we might yet become the relaxed and stable members of society who can contribute to the re-stabilization our currently manic nation.

To help inspirit us toward mental placidity, we might also keep in mind that, bravado aside, we are all rather delicate creatures who, like a flower, if tugged this way and that too often, can be broken off from, or yanked right out by, our beloved roots.

By Tom Attea  

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