I listen to what my wife calls, “the weirdest collection of music” that she’s ever heard on one iPod…we were driving long distance and she half-napped in the passenger seat while I enjoyed my music collection played at “random.” I think of it as an eclectic collection…not weird. But playing my list of several thousand songs at random has created occasional weird pairings: 1940s Big Band tunes before current noise pop cacophony; folk ballads followed by polished movie themes; highly original tracks after a cover song. Last night, I listened to Brian Eno’s “Bone Bomb”—inspired by a news story about a Palestinian girl who becomes a suicide bomber; it was followed by The Inks Spots’ 1941 classic, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” I found a certain irony in the juxtaposition…a modern threat of terrorism followed by a 1941 innocence, a pairing of bomb and fire, a surrender to death followed by a wish to be “…the one you love.” I enjoyed the juxtaposition because I thought about each song with a strange sense of the other, thought about them together as an irony, thought about the world then and now. 

In contrast, while watching the Academy Awards recently, I was stunned at the horrors of the documentary that won the Oscar for Documentary, Short Subject, The White Helmets (2016). I watched a very tearful producer, Joanna Natasegara, and a sincere Director, Orlando von Einsiedel tell in their acceptance speech about the 82,000 lives saved by the White Helmets, Syria's volunteer rescue force. Their speech ended and after a blink of the camera and a flourish of dramatic music, a politically charged Cadillac commercial followed, then a promo for Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t think they came as any kind of juxtaposition, because all the images and messages and emotions simply confused me, overwhelmed me. The power of The White Helmets clips was lost in the preachiness of the Cadillac commercial and then the absurdity of Grey’s Anatomy. I lost any thoughts about any of it as my mind struggled just to keep up. I had been so overwhelmed by the constant input that I had to go to Google to remember the name of the documentary.

Notice how sports arenas have become advertising venues over the last 50 years.

Notice how sports arenas have become advertising venues over the last 50 years.

It happens all the time because of the constant input of inputs…smart phone, internet, television, radio…in the car, in the waiting room, at the bar, at the restaurant…billboards and signs on the outfield walls and the ice hockey rink walls and shrink-wrapped buses and trucks. One’s thoughts are prevented virtually without interruption. I often have no time to think about the impact of what I read or hear or see. When I watch the evening news, I’m left with a confusion of frightening war images and political disputes and economic crises and dramatic weather video and sports clips and heart-warming human-interest stories…all underscored by a ticker at the bottom of the screen with other ideas and facts and punctuated by commercials. My thoughts about any single one of the stories never have time to take shape…which is fine because right after four more commercials, Jeopardy! comes on.

Open Facebook and see the posts that piled up since you last checked it: someone’s birthday, someone’s complaint or rant, a child’s success story, a pet’s trick on video…buy from this site, buy from that site…no time to think or assimilate or understand. Fortunately, Facebook lets us click the “Like” button to show that we saw the post…an instantaneous click about our instantaneous attention.

I enjoy the value of serendipity and how—like the songs I heard in the car—certain things can illuminate new aspects of other things. I enjoy thinking of one movie in comparison with another or old movies in comparison with new movies, or thinking about the book and film versions of a story…comparisons and contrasts and juxtaposition. But such thoughts are best gathered through focus and purpose…I like to take time to think about things, to weigh ideas, to evaluate meanings and intentions and process. I’ll challenge my readers: think about this post for a short time before clicking back to Facebook or heading off to another site and another topic. Think about the height and width and depth and quality of your thoughts…before you rush off to other ideas, images, and input.