When we’ve trained ourselves to simply scan the ever-present screens surrounding us, is it possible to see and absorb anything of value? Does our electronic society have terminal ADHD?

  • Think you ignore pop-ups?
  • Click through an incipient videos before they start?
  • Instinctively delete overly-personal or no-subject email headers?
  • Scan for keywords rather than read headlines? Don’t even think about the stories they lead to.
  • Have you ever read – much less responded to – a Twitter message?

Of course, we all pay full attention to

  • The music wallpapering our streets and shops,
  • The background radio that accompanies our phoning/texting/tweeting commute to work,
  • The television that accompanies our chores – and some of our most pleasurable activities?

Do you fast-forward through pre-recorded shows?

  • Note that advertisers have already changed their strategies to account for this.
  • Research shows that we retain knowledge of the advertiser, if not their message, while we’re looking for a show to resume. So…the advertiser’s logo appears more often – and longer – in each spot.

We talk of the body politic –

  • Responding to bumper stickers, slogans and non-sequiturs that feel right, even if they contain no sense.
  • Do we digitally hang onto every word, ignoring its context?
  • Do we forward and “like” pieces without reading them, just because a headline scan reinforces our preconceived notions?

We interrupt conversations to respond to the Pavlovian beeps from the electronic monitors in our pockets. Our tool for communicating has become our warden, telling advertisers and others where we are, recording everything we research, and interrupting us with different signals at random times, day or night. I’m pretty sure that this last item may be covered by the Geneva Convention, but, in our insecurity or fear of being left out of something, we hop to look. If we respond when we’re beckoned by the box, we’ve insulted the person or subject we’re with. If we defer our response, we’re still insulting them, because we’re no longer giving them our full attention, but thinking of our electronic response, instead.

Most of us have been to a party or reception where everyone is sort of listening to the conversation they’re in, but have their eyes and ears open to everything else in the room.  It’s a place for scanning and acknowledging, not studying and discussing. It appears that this behavior is becoming universal, no longer restricted to obligatory social events, but enveloping our lives. It appears that neither people nor events deserve our undivided attention any longer.

Would Walt Whitman still sing the body electric today? Or would he mourn it?