Up until a century or so ago, nutritional survival and getting enough food to eat was one of the main concerns of humanity. Yet in recent generations, for large segments of First World society where practically unlimited food is available, the opposite is now true. The concern, which once was to get enough food, has now become how to limit food intake.
In the second decade of the 21st century, we appear to have reached a similar turning point with information: needing to develop ways to protect ourselves from overindulging.
The Pelion peninsula, Greece: For our family holiday we sought a place that was quiet and away from the tourist crowd. A corner where we could be together, enjoy quality time, recharge our batteries. Somewhere close to the sea, where we could rise before dawn and jump into the water for a morning swim to soothe the muscles and the soul. We found such a place in the holiday spot of Leda on the Pelion peninsula. After spending two days in the stifling heat and noise of Athens, walking around the birthplace of democracy in a heat wave the likes of which even the elders of Athens could not recall, we travelled some six hours north and found ourselves in an entirely different world. Blue sea, endless olive groves down to the clear waters, picturesque little villages. The pace was slower and more relaxed, and the setting afforded orange sunsets and an evening breeze that restored the soul.
We settled ourselves into a modest white apartment with a view right out of a tourist postcard. Apart from taking a few hikes and going sailing along the local beaches, we simply eased into an addictive routine of sea-pool-rest-meal.
But furtively, discreetly, sweet and tempting, it stole into our vacation. We discerned its first signs on the long journey from Athens to Pelion. The phenomenon was unusual. Nay, incomprehensible. It was… the sound of silence. Not one of the children argued with a sibling, nor raised a voice, nor complained of boredom, nor asked repeatedly how much longer till we got there. At first I just thought my children were growing up… but when I looked in the rear view mirror I understood – it was the earphones. They all wore earphones, and they were off in their own worlds, listening to the music of their choice. They were plugged in to their own music and disconnected from their surroundings.
In the evenings at Leda we all sat out on the patio, enjoying the refreshing breeze after a long day of vacationing, eating the homemade food we had cooked in the little kitchenette. Nothing is more likely to foster family togetherness than this. Yet once again the online candy intruded. I kept begging my older children to leave their smart phones in the room and not to look at the screens during meals. “Your mother and I invested so much love, money and effort in this family holiday in Greece, and yet you think it’s more important to check on the Facebook update of a friend from home?” I complained, surprised and frustrated. In my naiveté I thought the mere invocation of my parental authority would suffice. But no. In the middle of the meal I noticed a suspicious bluish flicker on the lap of my offspring. Facebook and Chat had trumped Dad.
Saint Louis, USA: I went down to the gym in the hotel. The elevator echoed with music and a screen displaying the latest economic news. It was early in the morning but the gym was already crowded. In two corners of the small room, television screens were tuned to politics and sport. The treadmills themselves incorporated small television screens. Exercisers on the equipment wore headphones and were listening to music, some reading magazines while they strode energetically.
I tried to concentrate on my exercises but I felt the stimuli flooding my senses from all directions, throwing me off balance. In the end I gave up and returned to my hotel room, where I exercised alone and undisturbed in the narrow space between the bed and the bathroom.
The information offensive and the media stimuli continued in the hotel’s breakfast room: a television in the corner of the room, earphones on the heads of the diners. Smartphone tweets and the morning papers were quickly perused. Information spread out in every form – as a photo, a sound, the written word – and in all directions, penetrating every barrier and shattering any attempt to block it out and enjoy a moment of quiet and concentration before the start of yet another day of work.
A few years ago I had acupuncture treatment from an expert in alternative medicine who combined medicine with Kabbalah. While I was waiting for the needles in my skin to do their work, we began discussing modernization, the quality of life, and finding an appropriate balance. According to the Kabbalist/acupuncturist, the human brain is not formed for the quantities of information with which it has become bombarded in recent years.
In the not-so-distant past, obtaining and controlling information was one of the main concerns of humanity. Books were the property of the rich, a symbol of high status and education. Education provided a means of social mobility. Literacy was the key to employment in business, diplomacy, science. The court scribes of the ruling classes were those who wrote – and in many cases rewrote – the history of humanity. Information was a tool. Information was strength and power.
With the current onslaught of information, and the disparity between the volume and ubiquity of the information and the ability of human beings to process it, the attitude towards information is radically changing in recent years. More and more, the concern has become the need to filter and curb information, to find a haven from informational stimuli, to create an environment that is protected from the onslaught of information.
A mere century ago, the very idea of needing “protection from excessive food” would have seemed the height of absurdity, yet today the diet industry is worth billions. Perhaps in some garage or laboratory somewhere in the world, someone is already working on a diet plan for online junkies. And if not, perhaps the time has come.
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He serves as Vice President of External Affairs at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, and as Chief Instructor (4th Dan) of the Hoshaya Karate Club. Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. His first book, “Benartzi” (“Son of My Land”), was published this year by Achiasaf Publishing. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.