Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.
I think the big downside of today’s ambient contact is that it makes us too present-focussed. Psychologists talk about something called “recency”—our tendency to assume that whatever is happening to us right now is the most important thing going on. It’s a long-standing bias in our psychology, long predating the Internet. But modern media have made it worse. By “modern” I’m beginning with, probably, the telegraph, and certainly the newspaper. When you read the novels of the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, they’re already complaining about people being far too fascinated with the events of the day instead of paying attention to history. And this got seismically worse once cable TV realized that you could keep everyone riveted to their seat with live coverage of basically anything.
When my wife and I found out that we were having a girl—and I hope this doesn’t sound sexist or anything—the women I talked to all said the same thing: “Never be afraid to hug your daughter.” They told me to hug her so much more than I think I should. It might seem weird, but no little girl says, “My dad hugged me too much.”
We invite attention because we’re learning to lean on it, and the reactions that pour through our screens warms us. It reminds us that we’re appreciated, that we’re loved, that we’re alive.
The story—from Rapunzel to War and Peace—is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.
Our society has reoriented itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always-on. It’s not a mere speeding up, however much our lifestyles and technologies have accelerated the rate at which we attempt to do things. It’s more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now—and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.
So, let us not be blind to our differences. But let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.