Click to confirm you are 18 yrs of age or older and open
Click to confirm you want to see post
This last two plus years I have found it impossible to truly keep up with the amount of tangled, contradictory, anxiety producing and constant information coming at me from the media. It is as if news is now bullets from a machine gun rather than lobs from a tennis ball soaring over a net.
Three Fridays ago, Roger Stone was hauled off by guys in blue windbreakers by sunrise and Donald Trump decided by 3 to reopen the government, ending the longest shutdown in history; two Fridays ago, the president suspended one of the last remaining arms control treaties, potentially reigniting the nuclear race.
The author of these excerpts from her opinion piece calls this “split screen consciousness” and that does seem to fit. It is as if there are multiple screens going on all at once, each equally worthy of attention, and I just can’t process each one all at the same time. It is complete overload. When I take a break from it for even a day, my return finds me wondering how much could have happened in such a short period of time.
It should be noted that this problem of split-screen consciousness is likely to get worse in the era of divided government, not better. It won’t just be the president laying claim to our attention, but also those who are holding him to account. Even if our government were a paradigm of functionality, we’d surely be fighting for custody of our brains.But to opt out of this clanging multiverse is to live in mild estrangement. It’s to feel one’s self become a permanent spectator; to live with the persistent sense that something is always happening elsewhere; to feel old, outlasted, outmatched by the bizarre physics of your own lifetime: The great spinning world has toppled off its axis and rolled away.
I think that maybe this chaotic era of Trump information glut is a deliberate ploy, a political strategy that is thrown at us to keep us off balance, unable to deal with it since it requires so much of my time and energy just trying to keep up, but then I think that maybe it isn’t so much deliberate as a result of something that has happened because the mind of the leader who is causing so much of the turmoil is such a compromised mess.
I’m not convinced, as some people are, that the Twitter fusillades from the White House are part of a larger strategy of distraction, specifically intended to divert us from this particular administration’s malfeasance and failures. I think our president’s attention span is genuinely scattershot. (“Post-literate,” Michael Wolff called him in “Fire and Fury.” Seems about right.) When I imagine his brain, I imagine a bug zapper in a drizzle. Bzzzzzzzzzzt. Fzzzz. Bzzz fzzz bzzzzzzzzzzt.
But Trump chaos, both intentional and otherwise, has proved a great de facto political strategy, precisely because we are neurologically incapable of handling it. The one thing we know about any interrupted activity is that it takes an awful lot of energy to return to whatever last had our attention.
Whatever the explanation is, it looks like I’m stuck with it. There is no going back. Information overload seems to be here to stay.
Would that I were able to task-switch as they do. Would that we all could. Would that we all could return to the rhythms of a more civilized time, when we weren’t scanning the savanna for mortal threats every 30 seconds. It seems such an unfathomable luxury — almost as unfathomable as the Russians manipulating our elections, as a child billionaire selling our privacy down the river, as the Trump presidency itself.
I am trying to think about when, exactly, I realized that my brain was wretchedly ill suited to the modern world. Was it when Twitter began? With the internet itself?
Certainly by this current presidency. I know that much.
The original, complete article was written two days ago for the New York times by Jennifer Senior, but reprinted by several other news outlets with no pay walls.