Too Many Things
My brother is ten years my senior, and consequently it is probably not a surprise that when I was very young this little brother absolutely idolized him. He was undoubtedly my pop culture mentor, and to this day his influence still guides me. He was my guru for movies, music, television, literature, and their offshoots -- more or less all the standard and tangential topics of discussion that we find on Pajiba.
He was out of the house at age 16, and one of my more vivid and repeated memories in the following few years was not so patiently waiting at our front window for him to drive up on those late Friday nights when he was scheduled to visit home for the weekend. I would gaze out at the street, wonder why he was not there yet, return to the living room, and be back checking the window just a few minutes later.
Once I reached adulthood, the influence became more reciprocal in nature. I would give him just as many recommendations as he gave me. The other day we were in the middle of one of those sprawling conversations about the aforementioned topics, and he expressed frustration with the increasing speed that our technologies reach obsolescence. This particular discussion was about video games and how the advances come so fast that we do not have time to enjoy what we have.
My response was that it was not obsolescence that worried me; I probably could still find hours of fun with an Atari 2600 if the opportunity arose and delay curiosity about our new capabilities. No, the thing that I find so daunting and discouraging in this world is the raw immensity of the entertainment content that humanity has sown. I am absolutely overwhelmed and humbled by it.
He asked me to expand upon that thought. George, this one is for you.
Go into a library. Walk into that record store that usually has what you want. Surf the IMDB with no specific destination in mind but only the general aim of linking as many films as you have not seen as possible. Look around this world of ours. Imagine the countless hours of intake that are before you that you will never possibly experience. Beyond those specific shelves and webpages there is an even greater amount that you will never realize existed. Dwell in that thought and take it backward into the past and forward into the future.
Yes, we are so blessed to have more to read, play, watch, and hear than we could ever desire, but what hath we wrought?
Being knowledgeable in all these areas has been a driving force in my life as long as I can remember. As the unseen clock marking the time of my awareness in this universe ticks away, my response resembles frantic paralysis. Perhaps I do what passes for my best, but expertise in any single discipline will never be mine so long as the next voice beckons, the next tune plays, or the next image flickers on the screen.
My individual focus for any given interest is subject to ebb and flow, and I am always in the midst of a juggling act. Several years ago a literal juggler taught me the skill; he told me that on a difficulty scale of one to ten, juggling three items was about a "four." Four items might be a "seven." If I ever wanted to try to juggle five items, though, I would be facing something like a "thirty-seven." How many items am I juggling now?
There are albums I own that I have only heard once. There are books on my shelves that I have not read or were partially begun but never finished. There are unwatched DVDs. None of these are unappreciated because of quality; if anything, I own them because of their reputations, and the partial exposure was nothing but encouraging. They are simply the victims of a lack of time. I find that if you truly want to appreciate a book, a film, or an album, you probably need to experience it at least a few times. A few times? Are you kidding me? More often than not, I watch a movie, I enjoy it, and months later my recall ability about that brilliant piece of art is lucky to reach fifty percent. I am lucky if I catch an unedited portion of it on cable years later that reminds me how great it was.
Mornings in the car are a battle between talk radio, new music, and the music I already possess that I should not be ignoring. Hours of fun gaming for the consoles that I own await me, but I cannot devote myself to all of those virtual adventures. Sporting events that interest me happen constantly, and I cannot see them all.
The Pajiba event called the "Cannonball Read" mocks me. I have trouble reading twenty pages per day, and somehow I am expected to read a book or more per week?
Perhaps currently no device taunts me more than the DVR. It seemed like such a good idea when it became this convenient presence in my household earlier this year. I love how it has altered my ability to schedule, but at the same time it is a stress-inducing obligation. Each day sees a new concern about whether or not I have added more than I have watched. Is the available volume still above zero percent? Is such a worry worth sleepless nights?
The Internet is another monster. It swallows more of my time than anything else. I make friends here. I desperately try to stay informed about the news. I hone my trivia skills. I find the art, the writing, and viewpoints of amateurs that are just as talented as what the media machines sell us. The scope of our access to the thoughts of people around the world would seem like science-fiction if you tried to describe it to someone who was alive 150 years ago. It is amazing, and yet it is terrible.
There is too much. Has anyone responded to that 500-word comment that I posted on that random thread yesterday? Where exactly was that thread, and how did I even happen upon it? What was the topic? Oh, well. Here is something new that interests me. There are some brilliant remarks on this thread. I wish I could tell all these strangers that I appreciate them. I now will post my approbation and/or my discontent. How many browser tabs can I keep open at once? Is it my move in Lexulous yet? Yes, in fact it is my move in a dozen games at once. I am so happy that I reconnected with that good friend of twenty years ago. Now what? Does this ever end? If I ever had something that someone might have described as a "focus," I certainly do not have one now.
Forget this passive role. I want to go places and meet people for myself. The Earth is vast. We are nearing seven billion human beings. I am not truly content to simply be the listener. I want to be a creator myself. I want to inspire others. What should I create? Who will listen?
My brain is a sponge. It is not as sharp as it once was, but it spurs me nonetheless. Why can I not simply discipline myself and ignore 99 percent as noise? Perhaps it is because I know that these things are out there and that they do not all equate to noise. Is it any surprise I have never settled on a career or any single passion?
Sometimes I think it would be easier had I been born tens of thousands of years ago. I would sit at the campfire after a long day of hunting and gathering and listen to my tribe's designated storyteller spin a yarn that is the roots of a narrative that will be passed down over those millennia before it is fractured and splintered into its innumerable cultural descendants that we ingest today.
I realize this outpouring of mine is the very definition of a "First World Problem." I think there is more to it than that, however. On a cosmic scale, what has humanity produced? How do we measure the value of our species if not in the art that we create and the stories that we tell? I for one do not find our ability to procreate or kill each other particularly compelling. Mere survival is not greatness. What represents our best?
I carry these thoughts further and become very cynical about the transience of these many and varied creations of ours. As wonderful as they might be, they are not permanent. I saw Exit Through The Gift Shop a couple nights ago, and the described inherent temporary nature of street art resonated in that respect. Ultimately all that we produce is cosmic street art. We send out those radio waves in all directions, but who will find them and these records of our dreams, our loves, and our very existence? Eventually that Yellowstone supervolcano will level us, or an asteroid will smash us. The Sun might swallow us, and - even if we have escaped by then - most astronomers subscribe to that theory that the universe will expand into the completely inhospitable state known as the "Big Freeze."
Perhaps the best that you can do is to savor that book, that movie, that album, or that game while you can. Carry on.
Over the course of brainstorming and writing this, C. Robert Dimitri was toiling at his office job, listening to Vernon Reid & Masque's Other True Self, watching Sportscenter, updating his Lexulous games, and feeling guilty about the reading or watching that might have better enriched him. He would be honored by your comments, but he is so scattered in his interests that he has no expectations for you to linger in this particular place for too long.