Since he got a hand-me-down ipod from our daughter, one of J's new interests is podcasts. We often listen to them on long car trips instead of music or radio, and we have been both enriched and entertained.
I am struck by how profoundly one can be swayed by the informational input that he or she absorbs. This astonishing age of communication has us so immersed in a constant barrage of information of every sort - thoughtful, humorous, inflammatory, discouraging, uplifting, profound, inane, deeply true and patently false.
Even when we don't seek it out, it is constantly coming our way - in the sidebars of our email and Facebook accounts, on TV's in public waiting rooms, on street corner radios, commercials, postings both paper and electronic. Unless we go into the woods and fields with nothing electronic in our pockets, we are never free of it.
I have three observations about this -
1. I don't think we realize that the fuel we feed into our eyes and ears, thence to the brain, is as important to our general state of health as the fuel we feed into our stomachs for nutrition. Everyone needs to take a far more active and deliberate role in selecting the inputs that they consume. If you want to become depressed, feed the fire of rebellion, or confirm all of your darkest fears about humanity and the world, you can do so quite easily by choosing to listen to endless disgorgings of negativity. If you would like balance, intelligence, both useful and hopeful perspectives that look towards solutions and progress - those are there as well. It is in the music you listen to, the books you read, the movies you watch the radio stations you choose, the websites you scan. We used to talk about the company you keep, meaning people that you spend time with. That, too, remains important. But other influences on our psyches are rampant and omnipresent. We have to be careful.
2. We are becoming more and more uniformly molded by our informational nutrition. Some claim that there never has been an original thought. If there was truth in that outlook before, I think it is more pronounced today. Have you ever thought you had a cool new idea? I'm going to be a vegetarian! I'm going to buy a ukelele! I'm going to forward this cool video! I'm going to switch to gmail! Then you discover that tens of thousands of other people have recently had the same thought.
3. The information is all there - how is it possible, then, that people can still remain ignorant about so many things? One of the podcasts J and I listened to recently was Jonathan Safran Foer talking about his recent book, "Eating Animals." He is not inflammatory or dogmatic. He recognizes a middle ground. But he also points out that we all know perfectly well how cows and chickens are treated in factory farms - squashed into tiny spaces, beaks removed or wings unable to open, injected with various things to make them grow obesely fat to the point of disability. But locomotion is irrelevant for these beasts, whose sole function is to become our food. How many of us would look at an animal under these conditions and say that's okay? And yet, we still eat KFC, and McDonalds, and buy grocery store meat and frozen wings, all of which are products of those unhappy creatures. This lecture hit me hard. In how many more ways am I denying what I know in order to maintain the status quo of my comfortable life?
Whew. Sometimes a walk in the light of dawn can unleash more than I was expecting.
We had a brief thaw the other day, with a bit of drizzly rain. For the first time this winter we have a hard crust on top of the snow. Suddenly the dogs and I are free to walk all around the fields, 2 feet above the ground. It's a nice place to be.