audio is after the essay
I’ve been making this chicken pita recipe for dinner a lot lately, and using the King Arthur Baking flatbread recipe to go with it. Last time I made it, I thought, “I wonder why my pita bread doesn't puff up. Maybe I’m not rolling it out right.”
So I washed my hands and googled “how thin to roll pita?” on my phone and after some clicking around, the internet told me I was rolling it out correctly and it was then that I looked at the paper printout of the recipe I was using and saw it wasn’t even a pita recipe. Right there in the title, it was flatbread. Flat bread. It’s not going to pita. Even if the chicken recipe says it goes with pita bread, if I’m not making pita bread, I’m not making pita bread.
I’ve become so reliant on the internet’s ever-available drip of information that sometimes I stop paying attention to the world in front of me. (Perhaps a better example: my teenager Zuzu wanted to know how tall the rapper Pitbull is, googled “Pitbull height” and then said, “Here we go…wait, this can’t be right – 18 to 22 inches?”)
It used to be, not that long ago, that we had to purposely seek out digital stuff. We’d turn our computers on to use them, and then turn them off at the end of the day. And now, they’re always on, everywhere, and even if we’re taking steps to use our phones less, still there’s the TV in the waiting room with its outrage and short attention span, yelling (even if it’s muted, it’s still yelling) until we put our books down. There are QR codes on nature walks, videos in the supermarket, ads on the gas pump. It feels like the billboards at the end of the movie Brazil: endless, invasive but accepted, blocking us from our own thoughts. All of these digital bollards that call to us and stop us from what we’re doing, interrupt our stream of thought, and like the digital toddlers they are, we sigh and pay attention. Which is what they want. The advertisers don’t care about your novel. They don’t care that you were figuring out a good story idea in your head. They’d much rather permanently disrupt and alter your neurons, so your thoughts can only be “great story idea → flavor-sealed coffee can → new maxi pad technology → nutritionally-balanced dog food → wait, what about my story? → nope: drylon.” Or, worse: “story idea → outrage → oUtRaGe → OUTRAGE.”
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