Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Looking For Trouble

When I was a kid, the phrase "looking for trouble" was often used in reference to someone who was inserting themselves into a situation where it was likely that bad things would happen. For example, you are "looking for trouble" if you tell someone their baby is ugly. You are "looking for trouble" if you park your Ferrari on a back street of a rough neighborhood. When I said that someone was "looking for trouble", it basically meant that they were showing poor judgement and would suffer as a consequence.

Unfortunately, it seems that "looking for trouble" is a global pandemic. I have confessed elsewhere that I watch my site meter to see how people happen to find my blog. A large portion of the visitors find a link to one of my posts while doing a Google search. One search has been done by people in at least a dozen countries from all over the globe. It is a Google image search with the term "arthroscopic". When I do that search myself, I find dozens of images of various joints before, during, and after arthroscopic surgery. There is a rather gruesome photo of my knee in my blog post titled Ouch. There are several dozen images that rank higher in the search than my photo. However, it would appear that a surprising number of people carefully comb through the images until they find a photo of my knee looking like it has been beaten with a baseball bat. The pain and bruising I had following arthroscopic surgery are quite rare. Even among images that someone bothered to post on the Internet, it is rare. And you all know how much geezers like me like to show off their injuries. It is a second childhood version of "look at my owie!".

Do you suppose that the person doing the search usually says "Oh, thank goodness, even among Internet posts, a picture of a nasty looking result is rare!" Not likely. Perhaps a common response would be "Oh no, look at that. Look at what can happen. Man that has to hurt. I didn't know it could go that badly!" That is because the person doing the search is "looking for trouble". They may think they are looking for balanced information, but they are drawn to images of the surgery gone bad like moths to a flame.

This is not a phenomena peculiar to the Internet. Think about what we call "news". We pay people to scour the earth for the worst possible happenings, and then we fill a periodical or a broadcast with the worst of the worst. Some of those may be important for us to know: the hurricane in New Orleans, civil unrest in Kenya, or an election in Russia. However, a great deal of it caters to our depraved fascination with sad happenings. Britney Spears' personal problems. A man who keeps his daughter in a dungeon. The woman who leaves her dead mother's body in their house, decaying for months. The time we spend informing ourselves about such things is very much disproportionate to their importance. We are actually following those news stories for entertainment, not information.

Some weeks back I realized that every time I read or watch a story about Britney Spears (for example today's big headline: Britney Spears has another car crash ) I am casting my vote for more reporters and more media to give me more of the same. Ditto for story of the man who keeps his daughter in a dungeon or the woman who neglects her mother's remains. I am wasting some of the time God has given me on this earth. I am cycling my emotions and polluting my imagination to no good purpose.

Years ago I read the newspaper daily. I listened to National Public Radio while commuting to work (about an hour a day total). I often spent another hour each day watching local and national TV newscasts. Add in some time for reading "news" magazines. Let's not forget the time spent discussing such things in the hallway at work or during a family dinner. I shudder to think how many votes I cast for garbage. I wince when I consider the time I have wasted studying and discussing garbage.

I want to stop "looking for trouble". I want to be informed, not simply titillated. I've made some progress. I hope you will join me, simply because I want the best for us all.
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