John is taking a six-week sabbatical before beginning a new job in September, and one of the ideas we briefly bandied about is a device-fast. In particular, I’d love to stiff-arm the daily sturm und drang of the twenty-four hour news cycle. I’m pondering whether I can step away from my laptop, since I rely on it heavily for work. It would be interesting to try writing longhand and see how the physicality affects my process, and maybe also the content. But the web design work I do is predominantly digital in nature. Curating images, for example, requires a lot of internet research. So I’ll see how it goes. The intent would not be to put our heads in the sand. But always having our eyes screen-locked is a different form of doing just that: immersing ourselves in an alternate reality that denies the pulsing life and connections all around us.
I sure wouldn’t miss the up-and-downs of the daily news, the current administration’s scripted approach, wherein each day requires a good guy (Trump) and a bad guy (anyone but Putin), a drama that keeps everyone totally hooked, ginned up with either approval or outrage. Depending on your point of view, it’s either so awful or so great you can’t look away. That’s one of the first rules of good storytelling: keep the stakes high, the conflict unrelenting, the obstacles coming fast and furious. In his simplistic, narcissistic approach to world affairs, our president is living in a fantasy world, “a unicorn riding a unicorn over the rainbow,” to quote his first Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, in his new book. But the president’s media savvy, his hyper-developed instinct to manipulate the story, is extraordinary—genius, even. On John and my device fast, we’ll be choosing not to give media that power over our psyches every day. We’d rather stay grounded in what’s real, not manufactured crises and melodrama. Of course, melodrama can have real consequences to real people. We will never look away from that.
You know what I would miss though: good news. I loved reading how an international coalition of divers, medical personal, engineers, and computer programmers collaborated on the rescue of the Thai youth soccer team, while their 25 year-old coach, a one-time Buddhist monk, helped them through the ordeal with meditation; or about the French immigrant “Spiderman” who selflessly scaled the side of a building to rescue a toddler dangling from a fourth floor balcony. This morning’s Boston Globe ran a heart-warming story about a first-grade teacher who was given over $500 cash by fellow passengers on a plane flight, after they overheard her conversing with her seatmate about the challenges of teaching students in a low-income Chicago neighborhood.
These stories go viral because we are all starved for images of kindness, generosity, courage, innovation—confirmation of what we all know in our own circle of friends and family: people are capable of great goodness, integrity, compassion, positivity. Such feel-good tales are the antidote to the crass, cynical, incoherent or mean-spirited muck daily chummed out to us by our Head of State, the ceaseless battles with our own countrymen and women he gleefully cultivates.
So here’s to viral good news. May it uplift us all.