Who's Blowing It In Your Direction?
I'm old enough to remember when I'd walk into a restaurant and be asked "Smoking, or non-smoking?" I've never been a smoker, but my answer to the question seldom seemed to matter. There was nearly as much smoke in the non-smoking section as there was in the smoking section. Smoke drifted everywhere, and unless one wore a respirator, it generally couldn't be avoided. The question more aptly should have been, "Would you like some smoke or a lot of smoke with your meal?" Ah, the good old days!
As a society, we got smarter. It took decades though. The "smoking does not cause cancer" lie was finally exposed, and the horrible health effects of second-hand smoke became public knowledge. It's easy and tempting to look back on the smoking generation and say "They should have known better." Unfortunately, society doesn't seem to work that way. People get infected with information that harms them. In this case, the idea that smoking was cool, or fun, or not harmful ultimately destroyed millions of lives before it was extinguished by a gang bigger than the public relations industry that started and promoted it.
We're living it again.
No, the modern problem isn't the second-hand smoke from cigarettes. Thankfully, smokers have been exiled to areas safely out of reach of the lungs of others. The problem today is a different kind of second-hand smoke. This smoke is from those who are addicted (in the truest sense of the word) to the information cigarettes that come in the form of newspapers (be they paper or electronic), TV news (be it on a television or on a web site), and social media gossip. The addicted are spreading their information smoke to those of us who have decided not to ingest the toxic information from these sources. And yes, it's all toxic.
Let me give you an example. I work and write from coffee shops. As a person who's out in these spaces a lot, it's not uncommon for other coffee shop patrons to notice my (normally) friendly face and try to strike up a conversation with me. Usually they initiate conversations in a manner like this, "How about that <random event> in <faraway place>. Isn't that amazing?" I try to be polite in my response. I say things like "No, I haven't heard of that" and then change the subject to something more meaningful and relevant to the neighbourhood we're in. This cue is sometimes enough to get a real conversation going. But more often than not, it's met with another random piece of information harvested from whatever source these things come from. (See above).
On several occasions, I've even cut the conversation off by saying, "Hey, I don't read or follow news so could we talk about something else?" This was met with incredulity. How could someone not read news? The scandal! And in the most extreme and persistent cases, I've even said "What you just shared with me is second-hand smoke, and I'd prefer if you didn't." Not the most endearing response, I admit. But the effect was as intended. No more useless information to wade through and debunk.
The people who ingest "news" are addicted. If they've been addicted long enough, their thinking is likely impaired. I am sympathetic, and on a good day, I might be willing to coach. But I am never willing to breathe their second-hand smoke. I don't smoke. I never have.
We live in an era where nearly everyone is smoking information cigarettes. If you are not one of them, congratulations! I want to talk to you. I would love to hear your perspective.
One day, hopefully in my lifetime, the ingestion of information cigarettes will be widely known as dangerous and harmful. Until then, if you are one of the addicted, all I ask is that you blow your smoke in another direction, far away from me.
(Image Credit: Kati Jenson. Smokified by author.)