Today’s Los Angeles Times has a cover story called “Underwhelmed by It All: A Multi-tasking Generation is Not Easily Entertained.” The article, which you can read on-line by clicking the title to this article, takes about three pages to inform us that, in spite of unprecedented access to nearly limitless forms of entertainment a mere mouse click away, today’s young people are bored by what’s on offer. It’s not really a new idea. Bruce Springsteen had a song out called “57 Channels and Nothing’s On” back in 1992. And long before that people noticed that 3 networks and a handful of UHF channels all blaring away 24/7 didn’t have a whole lot to offer. Yet it still seems like the basic idea driving the information revolution (or whatever we’re calling it) is that if there were only a few more channels/webpages/blogs, etc. then we just might be able to find at least one thing interesting among all of that noise. Hasn’t happened yet. I’m betting it won’t ever.
The article came out the same day Nishijima put up some new stuff on his blog all about his childhood. He writes, “It had become very common for me to be wandering outside, going to the cinema, looking for secondhand books, and so forth. In short, it had become very difficult for me to regulate my daily life, and even though it was very uncomfortable for me, it was completely impossible for me to regulate myself.” So even nearly a hundred years ago, wandering aimlessly looking for entertainment didn’t make people happy.
And here I am pointlessly typing away for an audience of bored web surfers idling bouncing from blog to blog hoping to stumble upon one useful thing out there in a blizzard of noise and garbage.
My feeling these days is that there’s really just a limit to the amount of useful or even interesting stuff out there. For example, people often ask me to recommend books for them to read to deepen their understanding of Buddhism. I always mention the same handful. Basically Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, Nishijima’s To Meet The Real Dragon if you can find it…. and that’s pretty much it. I know there’s a mountain of stuff in the Buddhism section of any well stocked New Age book shop. But whenever I go leafing through those pages, it’s rare that anything strikes me as being worth taking home and spending time with. Sometimes I’ll buy a historical thing like Hajime Nakamura’s Gotama Buddha series. But that’s more because I’m not as conversant with Buddhist history as I should be. Otherwise, my favroite reading is stuff like One Fine Stooge, a newly published biography on Larry Fine of the Three Stooges (I’m not kidding, I loved that book). I also just started one called Guity Pleasures of the Horror Film, which is about 10 years old, but I only just discovered it. It’s got a whole chapter on the making of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth!
I don’t enjoy reading most of what’s published under the heading of Buddhism. It’s usually trite and boring, if not outright obnoxious. It’s another case of 57 Channels and Nothing On as far as I can see. Of course, there may be plenty of good stuff out there I just haven’t noticed. Since I so seldom venture into the Buddhism section anyway, it’s certainly possible.
The shere (did I spell that right, it looks wrong) amount of information out there these days leads to a tendency never to go into any great depth with anything. I mean, how can you devote a thousand hours to studying just one thing when there’s soooo much more out there? How can you settle on Zazen, for example, when there must be a quadrillion other meditation techniques waiting to be explored?
I understand the feeling. But I’ve also learned that the only way you’ll ever “get” what Zen is about is to go very deeply into it for a long time. It doesn’t work any other way. I see would-be masters all the time who have mile long resumes of meditation schools at which they have exeprience. I can’t help but wonder how a guy who’s like 45 — or 55 or 75 — years old can have studied so many traditions each of which takes decades of dedication to truly appreciate.
These days we have so many choices that we feel it’s almost necessary to try and experience them all. But is it? Can you? I’d much rather listen to The Beatles’ White Album for the 177th time than listen to 176 crap records.
How can you chose the right one to devote yourself to? I’m afraid that’s up to you. For me, when I heard the White Album for the first time, I knew it was a record I’d need to listen to again and again. When I heard the Heart Sutra once, I knew it was worth looking into further. So what if there were a million billion other things vying for my attention? I didn’t have time for them.
Anyway, that’s my rant about that. Now I gotta go do real work. Bye!