Don’t Be A Tourist

tour·ist
/ˈto͝orəst/

noun
1. a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.
“the pyramids have drawn tourists to Egypt”

Storytime!

When my oldest son was perhaps a tad younger than 3 years old, something happened. A switch flipped. My sweet, happy, and charming boy turned into a raging nightmare. Terrible twos, right? Or is it threes? That was what I thought until it got worse. And worse. And worse. And I, like many other progressive parents, chose to discipline him with timeouts, except that time outs became a wholly traumatic experience, because this was my FOMO filled child, the one who didn’t sleep more than half an hour at a time as a baby because he seemed to know there was something going on he wouldn’t get to see. So, I would put him in his room. I would tell him he had to stay for 5 minutes. I would close the door, and he would rage. He would scream and cry until he was hyperventilating. He would throw himself at the door like a trapped animal. He would climb up, hands on the doorknob, feet braced against the door, and wrench and yank and cry, desperately trying to get out. I would be forced to stand on the other side of the door holding the knob so he couldn’t get out. By the time I let him out, we were both exhausted and shaken. So, I tried to problem-solve. I asked other parents what I could do instead. I tried holding him in my lap for the timeout, he did his best to break my jaw with his skull. He scratched at my arms trying to pull them apart. He wailed in absolute anguish as if I were abusing him. Next, I tried the corner. That way he wasn’t away from us, really, I thought maybe this was the ticket. Nope. He couldn’t see us, so… it was the same deal all over again. I would stand behind him at the corner, trying to hold him there. He would spiderman the wall, scurrying up it, braced against both walls with all of his limbs, while I tried to hold him in place. Pushing back at me, shaking his head and throwing it back, sometimes injuring me, howling. 

At one point, realizing he was still barely speaking, I looked up where his language level should be and I found that he was still only speaking at an 18-month level. He understood us, but couldn’t talk back, and he was frustrated as hell about not being able to be understood. We were fortunate to get into a speech therapist quickly, who worked with him and offered good suggestions.

One of these suggestions was to limit TV time. She explained that TV was so fast-paced that children would lose all attention span – expecting real life to be as exciting and becoming bored when it wasn’t. And therefore, not being able to learn skills because learning was boring. He needed to slow down and learn to focus. I’m sure that this appears to have nothing to do with my topic, but trust me, it does, because…

We Have Zero Attention Span

The internet is a fast-paced, ever-changing place. We are bombarded with new information all the time. We glue ourselves to devices, waiting for the next notification to show us where someone liked our post or tweet, we have news notifications, there’s a new video to watch on a channel we subscribed to. If you are active enough online, there is always something new happening. I say that as a person who routinely wakes up to 50 notifications on Facebook, I am not exempt.

The longer this goes on the more attached we get. There exists now an entire generation of adults who never lived without the internet. It is our new normal. 

Now, as you’ll see if you read my post The Good Ole Days Pt. 1, I’m not about bashing technology while pretending the past was so much better. The truth is, the past had its issues and the present has its issues. Mainstream internet is really only perhaps 25 years old, it’s really just come of age and we have needed time to adjust to this new and wonderful thing. I love the internet. The vast wealth of information, the ability to keep in touch with people no matter where they live, the memes. I can’t even express how much I love memes. Memelife!

There’s a real level of interaction that you can find online, and for an introverted homebody like me, that’s a true treasure.

The downside is that it seems that much like television to a toddler, the internet, and further, our access to smartphones, has reduced our attention spans to that of gnats. Tragedy reported by big media outlets and viral content grabs us by the face and screams “LOOK AT ME!” Natural disasters, disease, movements, awareness campaigns, and other causes all force us to snap to. To immerse ourselves. To get in on the frenzy, fit into the crowd, be the hero… until the next thing comes along. It may take 3 days, a week, a month – but something else always comes along to compete for, and win our attention. 

So where does the “tourism” come in?

How Quickly We Forget…

This year has not been short on things to argue about, causes to take up, outrage to have. If I’m going to be fair about it, no year is short on those things – but this year has just been so inarguable, unequivocally awful.

There is something insidious about the way that social media and the internet at large handles these genuinely awful occurrences, though it harkens back to pre-internet days when people would throw money at something and feel they’d done their part. It’s not even money anymore, though. It’s “awareness,” now.

Part of the zeitgeist of our times is the tendency by the fine citizens of the internet, at large, to be swept up in non-actions. Hashtag, share, add a frame to your Facebook profile picture. Outrage over the issue at hand becomes trendy. There comes a veritable tidal wave of quotes, news articles, opinions, arguments. And it burns blazing hot and then sputters out. We are spent. We are tired of it. We can’t focus anymore and we’re onto the next big thing. 

I believe this is harmful rather than helpful. Why? Because, for one thing, it gives people a false sense of accomplishment. They did their part. They feel good about themselves. They did the good thing, patted themselves and each other on the back, and now it’s the equivalent of “I gave at the office.” What, in practical terms, have they really done? They’ve largely just followed the crowd, or the mob, as the case may be. 

Secondly, real change doesn’t come in a week, in a month, often not even in a year. And yet the movements have lost all interest from the majority of the internet long before that. Tying into the notion that non-actions have done good, people feel like they’ve already done their part and seem less likely to pick up the torch again later or to commit to the long haul.

We lack commitment and we lack focus, and commitment and focus are what’s needed in order to bring about real change. 

People become essentially tourists for causes. Not only do they affect no real change themselves, but they end up creating an environment where the people around them become bored with the issues. They are there because it makes them feel good. They are drawn to it the way they would be drawn to any attraction. It makes them feel part of something, it makes them feel like they fit in. 

There are issues I’ve written about in the past that tie in here as well.

We all watched in horror as George Floyd was slowly and mercilessly murdered by a police officer, while other officers stood by without interfering. We could not bury our heads in the sand anymore, we could not pretend that racially motivated police brutality happens and that it happens far more often than it ever should. This should be a catalyst for change, for us to acknowledge what black people face day to day, to work on becoming, not un-racist ourselves, but actively anti-racist.

But wait, has everyone already forgotten the global pandemic that we are facing, the danger of conspiracy theorists and people who simply don’t care about public health, the safety measures that need to be in place? It’s not old news yet, we are still battling this and we are all living an altered reality that we have had to adjust to as “new normal.” This is something that affects not only community health, the places we live in, the people we love – but also the economy at large, businesses, our way of life, and our own anxiety and stress levels. 

But wait again, Canada. Have we forgotten about the plight of indigenous people in our country? Here and here. The systemic racism, the ongoing Indian Act, the fact that so many were up in arms about a valid protest that they held over their own land? That so many believed they shouldn’t have that right, the right to protest that we all should be granted? Are we paying attention to that anymore, because this is as important as the race issues we look down on in the United States? We are not better. Not by a long shot. And pretending that racism just doesn’t happen, here or in the US, impedes progress – we can’t change something we don’t acknowledge. 

This is important. Where do you fall on the scale?

Think about it. Before you slap a frame on your profile pic, before you pick up some hashtags, and before you do nothing beyond putting forth the same sorts of tales of enlightenment or criticisms that half the rest of the internet is already sharing en masse. Solidarity is a great thing, but it needs to be out there, more than just on the internet, and more than a feel-good, empty gesture. 

Make some commitments to do better in your community, to promote progressiveness, to try harder. 

Slow down, you move too fast.

Pay attention. Commit. Focus!

Just don’t be a tourist.

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