OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

The expression “out of sight, out of mind” has been around for a while, dating back to at least the 13th century and appeared in print for the first time in John Heywood’s “Woorkes: A dialogue conteynyng prouerbes and epigrammes” in 1562. To think that even way back then maintaining a certain visibility in society was considered a cornerstone of success and a validation, to a degree, of one’s intrinsic worth. How much more so in our frenetic global culture now driven, it seems at times, by social media profiles and where going “viral” has become the aspiration of millions. Dissertations are already being written about what this is doing to the attention spans and expectations of the rising generation and our ability, as a species, to look at the big picture while reflecting on the lessons of the past.

I liken the flow of information — good and bad — these days to a rushing river that sweeps up everything in its path. Our attention is captured by whatever shiny object vies for it on the shoreline that is whipping by and rarely do we take a glance backwards. To make any sense of it one has to, on occasion, extricate oneself for even a short period of time — pause by the riverside, gaze back at where the water has come from and look to where it is headed — and that is easier said than done.

As I was growing up, my father would constantly repeat a German aphorism “Wer schreibt, der bleibt” — he who writes, remains for posterity. When all it takes nowadays for a book to make the New York Times Best Seller list is selling 9,000 copies in the first week after publication, I often wonder about that — does literature still hold the same sway it clearly once did? Or has the attention of the masses been taken hostage by the platitudes, the eye candy and the manufactured outrage that pass for “content”’ nowadays. In reality they are nothing more than junk food for the soul — satisfying in the short-term but ultimately of little nutritive value. The good stuff exists — it’s out there — content that feeds the spirit is being produced, but it can often get lost in the noise generated by the less substantive.

Who is to say where this will all lead — perhaps we are witnessing a pendulum swing of sorts and over time new media will adapt to the true needs of the world’s population and not simply serve as a placater of its wants and desires. But for that to occur the will for a change has to be there — and that at all levels of society. Everyone is faced with a number of options when it comes to social media — 1. drop out completely; 2. spectate but not participate; 3. promote a status quo of mediocrity by circulating fluff, or worse outright falsehoods; or 4. make an effort to elevate discourse by tackling challenging issues, even if that means sometimes alienating a certain percentage of individuals in the process. None of these options is intrinsically right or wrong because that would be attributing far too much power to these fora — but only one will help shift the overall tone to one that is positive and constructive.