One of my favorite routines from the great comedian Bill Hicks (1961-1994) is the one where he talks about sitting alone in a WaffleHouse, eating and reading a book. A waitress walks over to him and asks “What you readin’ for?” Not “What are you reading?” Bill clarifies, but “What are you reading for?” “Why read when you can just flip on the tube?” She asks, “Cause it’s not the same!” Bill fires back. “What do you think I’m reading? ‘Hee-Haw the Book’!?”
Even though Hicks died in the 90s, this whole bit perfectly sums up what bothers me most about the 21st century. The obsession with speed and stimuli, computers get faster and screens get brighter by the day, while we get slower and more passive. Less willing to do the work needed to live our own lives. Why would we? Our phones can do it for us! We no longer take time to appreciate the beauty in small things, to find joy in every day details like a blue sky or the smile of a stranger. We want to talk to a friend, do we call them? No! We send them a text of course! Who wants to hear another human being’s voice? What’s cool and trendy about that?
Art now has the lifespan of a fly. I’ve actually heard people call Fight Club an “old movie”, when that film’s younger than I am! The language is being degraded almost by the minute. We have abbreviations for slang now, for crying out loud, and I don’t care how much of a rush you’re in, it takes no effort to type Y-O-U!
Whew. That got away from me. I know these are all gross generalizations, plenty of people still read, and human connection is still very possible. I just worry that it’s getting harder and harder, frankly, because more and more people simply don’t care. So many of us practically lead our whole lives on the internet. Not bothering to think or question anything, and the way the internet is set up, this leads to one outcome: Anger, and lots of it. Hell, you just saw a heaping helping of it from me, and it’s not productive anger, it’s a double-edged sword that cuts you deeper than the person you’re attacking. The rage we feel towards each other over race, religion, gender and overall political affiliation is exactly what the people in charge want, because they know that as long as we’re at each other’s throats, they keep power. The illusion of difference that they’ve fostered will stand firm, we won’t realize that we are truly all one, and we won’t take back our lives.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Hicks may have been angry, but underneath his anger, there was a deep-rooted hope for humanity, his apparent cynicism was due to so many people being willingly-manipulated, so many people lulled into thinking that a kinder, better world was a ridiculous idea, it just wasn’t in human nature they said, and as our governments continue to pit us against each other, they say it today.
Well, I for one think they’re wrong. There will come a day, very soon, when all our weapons will be laid-down forever, racism and gender inequality will be a thing of the past, and good food and clean water will be readily available to everyone, all we have to do is come together.
How? Well, we don’t do it with Facebook groups or “Hashtags”. We don’t do it with youtube or reddit, we do it through great stories and art, we do it through feeling the beauty that exists all around us every day, in this world we are blessed to call home, and most of all, we do it through meaningful connections with each other, as thinking, feeling human beings, not 1s and 0s.
So take some time out of your day to leave your computer, turn off your cellphone and go enjoy the sunshine, or hell, a walk in the rain. Have a coffee and drink it slowly, savoring the flavor. Think about how lucky you are to be alive, to be able to enjoy the little things. Say hello to someone, anyone, even someone you’ve never met. Or if you don’t feel like talking, just smile at them. You’ll make their day better for it.
And please, next time you go to a WaffleHouse, Make sure to bring a book.