The World Is Too Much With Us
By Judy Dykstra- Brown
“People here are funny. They work so hard at living they forget how to live.”
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
How was life when we didn’t know everything? Back when there was no TV and when news got shared once a day on the radio and once on the door stoop in the morning? We were so busy with our own lives that we didn’t spend every minute of every day bound up in the ills of the world.
Violence was a neighborhood game of cops and robbers, but nobody really ever identified more with the robbers. It was more a game like kick the can, where you were trying to keep something away from the other side. Violence was not the point and when I look deep, I know that a game of cowboys and Indians was no more an expression of prejudice than listening to a World Series game of the Yankees against the Dodgers was.
To rephrase a quote from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), I have to say that people of the twenty-first century are funny. They work so hard at living they forget how to live. I include myself in their ranks. I am so tied to my computer that I panicked recently when I spilled a Coke on it and had to go a few days without. My day felt strangely empty even though I had an entire ocean and beach spread out before me and a small town full of people to talk to, a porch full of art materials. But, I’d become so accustomed to my blogging world and even to talking throughout the day via Skype to a very dear friend, that I didn’t know what to do with a day that was just a day in one place with one set of people around me.
Existence has become a thing that has no value unless I can write about it and I don’t seem to be able to write anymore unless I am writing into a computer and sending experience out into the world. I am committing, perhaps, even more of a sin than those teenagers glued to their hand devices, texting their friends. They, at least, are connected to someone, whereas I simply talk to my computer and send out copies later.
Who is most at fault is not the point. The point is that connection with the world at large that keeps some of us from a simple and private connection to the world immediately around us. We know so much about so many things we really don’t have much control over, that we have become voyeurs. The entire world has become grounds for our gossip. We are fascinated by the gory details, shocked but in a sort of fascinated daze that keeps us many times from realizing that this is more than a movie. This is reality. Someone’s pain. We feel it for those seconds and minutes and hours and days that the horrible action stays in the headlights of this rushing vehicle that is our world, but then we pass on and it is as though one program has ended and the next begins. We think about world events in episodes. Off with the old one, on with the newest slaughter or murder or coup or genocide or monster storm or hostage situation.
In the meantime the minor tragedies around us sometimes go unnoticed. We are so fixated on the stories of major tragedies on the other side of the world that we forget the real people and small dramas going on around us. We watch nature shows on television while ignoring what wildlife still exists around us. We suffer the passion and pangs of romance as onlookers. Observing the great chefs of the world takes up time we could have been baking chocolate chip cookies. Watching Honey Boo Boo in horror becomes a punishment in comparison to sitting in a playground, watching children living the world in real time.
Yes, what I write is hyperbole, but I think it is true, to a varying degree, of most of us connected to the technical world. It is like a horrible accident passed on the highway that we are told by our mothers to look away from. Who can resist? No matter how much the gory scene may invade our dreams and turn them into nightmares, we cannot look away. And now with TV and the Internet, we could spend 24 hours a day watching such horrors. And often do.
There is such a thing as being too connected to too large a world. This is why I disconnected the dish network and cable years ago. The bad news still leaks through, as does the good news, but in quantities I can take and that leave time for real experience and a perhaps misplaced faith in the world and human goodness and yes, even my own goodness. I am beginning to try to spend more time away from the computer–to simplify, if that is possible in this busy cluttered mess of a life I’ve once more collected around me.
I find the valuable elements slipping away and less energy to collect more around me. Friends die or move away both physically and emotionally. This is the process of life. But it is also the process of life to stay engaged in a real way and to fight for meaning and value in our lives. This should not be so hard. There should not be so much to plow through to get to ourselves and what is really important. The Mr. Deeds quote, in modern context, might be altered to read, “We work so hard at observing and being in contact with the world at large that we forget how to live in that world.”