The Culture of Distraction

(I wrote a piece on mass communication nearly 8 years ago ( http://www.chrisdamitio.com/a-brief-history-of-the-mass-media/ ) I feel like the article below is a sort of continuation of that discussion. In brief – I would venture to say that things have not gone well for humanity)

I find myself with time to think – but not too deeply – since I am distracted and put off from an in depth continuation of any ideas by the world that surrounds me. At the moment – it is the landlord of my shop – who decided that the best time to paint (and scrape off the sloppy mess he made on my shop windows) was when I am open. This has been going on for months…and frankly, yes, I’m annoyed. It does no good. His view is that when the weather is nice, he should be hunting or fishing – and painting the building I rent from him (or cleaning up the mess from his painting) is best done when it is most convenient for him – without regard to what is convenient for me or my customers. We’ve expressed our views to one another – which ended with him screaming obscenities in my face on the street. I pay him money every month – and that’s how it ends. He knows I don’t want to move my shop – so unless I want to move it – that is where it ends.

It’s no different than many other aspects of life today. Back in August, I bought three leather bags from an Ebay vendor. Ebay subsequently suspended the seller so I never received the bags and was unable to file a dispute since the seller had been removed from their system. I called Ebay to determine how to get my money back and was transferred to a call center in the Philippines where a girl who should never have been hired based on her English skills, tried to help me and entered a request for a refund for one bag – which I received less than a week later. Since then, I’ve spent hours on the phone with various Filipino call center employees who are trained to appease me but have no ability to fix my problem or even to transfer me to someone who can. I’ve reached the point where a billion dollar company has stolen $40 from me and there is nothing I can do about it. Even if I were to hire a lawyer, my contract with Ebay (and yours too if you have one) specifies arbitration rather than a lawsuit – so I can’t combine with other disgruntled users and file a class action lawsuit or demand damages for the time and frustration this issue has cost me. I can curse and rail at a low level employee who will say over and over “I’m sorry sir, we will file the request for you and then we have to wait 5-7 days” and cannot or has been trained to say nothing more.

Eating my lunch while my ugly landlord looks in the window was unpleasant. I was hungry. I had a burrito I was rather excited to eat. I lost my appetite. I have to stay in the front of my shop – and I can’t make him go away. Cold burrito in the near future sounds much less exciting.

The world is this way. The customer is no longer right unless the customer is a whale (spending millions or billions). Customer service is dead. Your money gets you what the mega-wealthy want to give you and only that. The uneven distribution of wealth has gone to such extremes that your entire paycheck is no longer of interest and can be flushed down the toilet without a second thought by those at the top.

Try to have a conversation without either you or the other party becoming distracted by their phone. Try to sit and breathe without being interrupted by the incessant beeping of our society. Car door, microwave, backing up truck, text message, low battery somewhere, siren, or some other high pitched noise. I’ve been diagnosed with tinnitus – but even without it the high pitch tones don’t stop. I’ve lived in the Arab world – I know what it’s like to be stopped by the call to prayer five times a day, to have everything grind to a halt when it’s prayer time, or how hard it is to concentrate when you are expected to get up and say salaam a leycum every time someone enters the room…but the technological society seems to have one-upped the Muslim world. We are being trained to lack concentration.

On the ebay calls – I have been required to give the same information over and over and over – and then to do it again and again. Is that on purpose? Or is there a reluctance to look at the notes on my account? Maybe it’s easier for the account reps to force me to give the info again than it is to read it on the screen in front of them. I really don’t know. How could I?

I only know that we (the average) have lost something in this century that was a fundamental tenet of the last one. Our money, no matter how little it might be, used to give us a certain amount of respect/credibility/deference – we used to be important because our little bit of money made up a part of the wealth and power of the elites – without it, they would fail. No longer. They no longer fail based on consumers and if they do – they are bailed out by other, larger organizations. My contribution is no longer valuable enough for them to waste more or effort than it takes to hire a third-world teenager to tell me everything will be alright.

And why do we let them get away with it? Because we are distracted. We are constantly distracted by celebrity stories, animal stories, terrorism, economic stories, political showdowns, the latest superhero movie, the new star wars, the newest gadget, the latest health scare and more…not to mention the tweets, texts, calls, facebook updates, and emails…

Have you noticed any of this? Or is it just me?