Broken-down Poetry: Title Track: Thanks, Postman


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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Title Track: Thanks, Postman

I find myself in a bit of a pickle.
See, it’s the middle of the semester: the time everyone just wants to give up and quit, letting grades slip and procrastination kick in. It’s almost spring break – one more day! – and I’m burned out.
So I watch TV. I want my brain to take a break from reading and writing to laugh at Jeff Winger on “Community” or get swept up in the drama of “Heroes.” I’d like to stare at the black box in front of me for an hour and detoxify from everything school-related.
But I can’t. I blame my major.
You know how professors warn you that “this class will kill your love for [insert your favorite major-related activity]”? I’ve heard it more than once. But as a communication major, my love for the media not only gets killed, but beaten relentlessly, kicked around and spit on. So much for detoxifying.
In my media and society class, we’re reading Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which is about how this generation’s prominent form of communication (the media, specifically television) affects the way we think and the way we discover truth. Because television is the predominant medium of our culture, we have become conditioned to certain things. Like, we expect information to be given to us in quick sound bytes and we expect to be entertained.
This doesn’t really sound like a problem, until you really start to think about it. It’s fine to want TV to be fast-paced and entertaining, but if you expect everything to be fastpaced and entertaining, there’s a problem.
Postman argues that our attention spans have been shortened by TV (and, though he wrote the book prior to the Internet, I’m sure he’d agree it has played a part). We can’t stay focused if the content isn’t entertaining.
Take sermons for example. During the school year I go to a liturgical Presbyterian church. The service bounces from prayer to song to Scripture-reading to homily pretty fast – only 20 minutes maximum for each section – yet still I find myself getting fidgety. I’m not the only one, either. The lady in the pew in front of us always does the kids’ word search in the bulletin.
The longest I have to stay focused is only 20 minutes, and still I cannot handle it. TV, what have you done to me? Or think about class: How long do we listen to the professor before we start perusing the Internet? Not very long.
Even as I write this, I see the truth in this. Every time I get writer’s block, I check my Facebook. I can only handle homework for short periods of time before I look for entertainment.
This is why I’m in a pickle. I feel too guilty to watch TV, but know no other way to rest my brain from school work. I wish I had never read Postman and could back to ignorantly blaming my lack of attention on undiagnosed A.D.D.
I’m left to wonder what I should do. How can I rest my brain without damaging it more with television?
I could read – but even I, an avid reader, don’t want to look at tiny print after I’ve spent hours writing a paper. I could play Sudoku – but even that involves a certain amount of math.
Maybe the problem is our time frame for rest. Most of us take sporadic breaks throughout the day between homework assignments. We spend Saturday mornings doing homework then have fun Saturday night.
What if we tried it the Jewish way – what if we worked really hard six days a week and left a whole day for rest, for Sabbath? Instead of taking minor breaks, what if we took one big break.
We wouldn’t need to squeeze in a television show here and there, but could spend the day shopping in Indy or taking a road trip to see friends.
Whenever I think about Sabbath, I get really uneasy. I’d much rather take smaller breaks every day than have one whole day of rest. But when I think about what I’m taking my breaks with – mindless television shows that do more damage than good – the idea of Sabbath becomes more appealing.
Because even though I like watching shows like “Community” after several hours of homework, I don’t feel rested once the episode is over. Most of the time I want to watch another episode and forget about homework completely.
So what do you think, do we try setting aside whole days for rest? Or do we continue bouncing from activity to activity to keep ourselves amused?

The post was originally printed in Indiana Wesleyan University's The Sojourn newspaper.

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