I find it funny, when thinking about all the many ways that we sophisticated 21st century humans can keep busy—to consider the fine line of when a distraction goes from positive to negative, depending on the point of view of what one considers meaningful.
On one hand, the prevailing logic goes—it is the fellow that can find ways to adapt and keep himself occupied that can handle rainy days and even catastrophes when they happen. He can think on his feet and find ways to make due. On the other hand, that same fellow can be seen as delusional and immature for not conducting his life in a more appropriate and useful manner. And for some, being a dreamer is only sound when it translates into some tangible outcome that pays off literally.
It can be therefore, a very subjective judgement call to decide what a good use of time is and what the polar opposite is. Obviously habits that are bad for moral well-being are easy to dismiss as bad—things like looking up pornography, getting hooked on gambling, or developing drug addictions can be placed in that category with no argument.
That means that other hobbies and pastimes such as reading or playing cards, or doing a puzzle or watching TV could be considered in a positive category right?
I mean if the litmus test is coping and surviving (think of the “here and now” desperation of Kris Kristofferson’s song “Help Me Make It Through The Night” to best illustrate the “good company” aspects of TV viewing when alone), then these kind of leisure skills would come in very handy during lean times. Certainly if a person is deep in the throes of depression or recovering from some tragic loss, then whatever gimmick or band aid that provides temporary relief is a true blessing seen by all.
Isn’t that what good teachers do? Find activities and ideas out of thin air and simple, everyday props? Think of the heroic Chilean Miners that survived because they found ways to find meaningful structure to keep the morale up while trapped way down underground for so long.
All this causes me to consider myself and my own favorite pastimes for whiling the time away in public. I think of those bars with the multiple sports TV’s suspended up on the ceiling. Way before hand held devices and texting, these TV’s were the perfect way for solo people like me to feel more at ease with eye contact and the conspicuous nature of being watched by countless sets of eyes all happily assembled around in groups. Heck, in many of these sports bars, even the urinals in the men’s bathrooms came equipped with displayed sports pages from the newspaper, conveniently displayed in eye level so that the patron can feel more at ease during this stage too.
Speaking as a very high metabolism person who likes to juggle multiple stimuli while chewing gum and tapping my foot, I always locked in to the entertainment of watching 10 TV’s at once, most with their sound down, as commercials and dramas and sports games all swirled into multiple soundtracks. I always found it liberating as soon I could then take my pen out and jot my thoughts down in my journal, feeling much more at ease in the process as the waitress approached me for my order.
But the key for me at these places was that it was an EVENT. The multiple suspended TV’s, the bartender, the human dramas of every snippet of conversation I overheard, was all something that I was deeply involved in studying.
Were these prototypical sports bar cable TV’s the beginning of the slippery slope we live in now with obsessive texting, video games and internet searches that BLANKETS the consumer from the outside world?
Today this insular remoteness has gone to a ridiculous level, and as hard as it is believe, is only going to get more ridiculous with every tiny, megabyte breakthrough. Adult parents whip out their cellular devices at restaurants as quickly as their kids do after first showing that they can eat 3 bites of healthy food first before. Front row spectators at professional sports events can be seen glancing down frequently at their IPADS to check on OTHER sources while super elite professional athletes RUN and perform amazing athletic feats just a few yards ahead of them. Customers going in to pizza restaurants to pick up their TO GO order barely look up from their hand held devices even to acknowledge the cashier much less notice the décor and ambiance.
Perhaps the clearest illustration of having the label of being a self-reliant person go up in smoke is when we are forced, due to a natural disaster, to have NO electricity or electronics at our disposal. Can we still go to a plan B after realizing for the 15th time that the light switch really WON’T turn on for us when we flick it, or do we become basket cases that can only think of going to bed early?
But in my humble opinion, we NEED to notice the decor and the ambiance and the SPIRIT of a public place. It is a vital part of our human existence. We need our molecules and emotions and philosophies to BUMP awkwardly into ANOTHERS. We need to constantly hone and sharpen our senses towards what we behold.
There are whole universes of learning to embrace while just doing our errands in a 10 minute local radius.
So let’s get back to that central question of knowing when a distraction remains a good trick to pull out of ones sleeve or has become just a bad crutch. Are the GPS gadgets and the DOUBLE and triple interchangeably masquerading identities of our watches and cell phones and laptops, really freeing us or actually enslaving us and making us feel even less satisfied than before? Hmmm.
Ultimately it gets back to whether we build up or bypass the room and scenery around us when it comes to what we choose to distract ourselves with publically. Whether we are playing checkers provided for us at a coffee shop or content to just stare into the eyes of the diner guest in front of us, we owe it to ourselves and the world around us, to be attentive and care. We only pass this way once, this is especially true when we consider how fast retail stores and restaurants go out of business! We need to be in the present as we reminisce fondly about our past when we occupy our time in public.
We are more than customers, patrons, and employees. We are granted a sanctioned public portal in which to interact and share time with other people. We have important roles as ambassadors. Every wave and every smile is critical for the human experience. Like those signs at movie theaters that remind us—“turn off your cell phones, you can text later.” We are in a theater called life and we should be attentive to every plot twist!


About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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