Can I Have Your Attention Please?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a general description applied to people who have trouble staying focused on something, such as a task, a conversation, or minor surgery.  People with ADD are often inattentive, impulsive, and hyper-active--pretty good characteristics for creative types, but not so good for people who operate heavy machinery or dispense prescription medication.

Actually, people I know with ADD are quite happy with their "condition," and I'll admit they're fun to be around.  They're happy, lively, and good at delivering clever one-liners.  Still, I wouldn't want all my friends to have short-attention spans.  I need a few people in my life who at least act like they're paying attention to what I have to say, even if I'm babbling. 

I'm finding that it's getting more difficult to find people who pay attention.  The whole world, it seems, has ADD, and it's not because everyone is drinking the same kool-aid--unless the kool-aid happens to be a  Blackberry or an iPhone.  Call me an anti-luddite, but the way I see it, our collective ADD is directly related to our dependency upon--or maybe I should say our addiction to--hand-held electronic communication devices, and it's killing the practice of paying attention.

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Coraline Makes Me Feel Inadequate

I went to see a movie last week that had a profound effect on me.  Mostly, it made me feel completely inadequate.  The movie was "Coraline."  Now, you may  be wondering how an animated film based on a story written for children by novelist Neil Gaiman could produce that kind of response, but it's true.  After experiencing "Coraline" in all of its stop-motion 3-D glory, I felt unworthy of ever writing another word.  If I were a painter, I would have flushed my brushes down the toilet.  If I were a musician, I would have smashed my guitar.  Since I am a writer (sort of), I felt like destroying my computer.  How could I ever create anything worthy of public consumption after viewing something with such artistic magnificence?

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Bonehead Economics

I'm no economist, but like you I've been paying attention to the economy more than ever before.  Most of the time the big numbers floating around the headlines these days--trillions lost in the market, hundreds of billions pledged to Wall Street by the federal government--simply dull my senses.  I mean, how do you relate to numbers with that many zeroes in them?  For me, it's more about getting dinner at Pick Up Stix for $4.99.  That's what I call a bail-out.

Just when I didn't think another headline related to the economy could get my attention, I saw one the other day with the number $18.4 billion, and I began developing a facial twitch, not unlike the one worn by the Chief Inspector in the Pink Panther movies whenever he thinks about Inspector Clouseau. 

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Hoping for Change

As America basks in the glow of a peaceful and smooth presidential inauguration, people are hoping for change.  Big change.  What they don't realize is that big change is already here, and the one behind it is far above our new president's pay grade.

We humans are an egotistical bunch.  We think every change--whether scientific discovery, technological innovation, economic goof up, or presidential election--happens because we make it happen.  So instead of staying humble about change and acknowledging that we don't have all the answers, we act as if every discovery is ours to claim, every trend is ours to exploit, every goof up is ours to fix, and every election is ours to celebrate.  In short, we act as if we are the center of the universe.  What arrogance.

Such a self-centered perspective is nothing new.  Humanity-at-the-center-of-the-universe is as old as, well, humanity.  The thing is, the old perspective doesn't work, not if we want things to change for the better.  For that to happen, we need a new point of view, centered in something outside ourselves and our limited, myopic viewpoint.

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Penn Gillette Gets a Bible

My good friend Phil Cooke, media maven extraordinaire, alerted me to an amazing video clip made by Penn Gillette of Penn & Teller, the eccentric and talkative half of the popular magic duo.  I encourage you to watch this self-revealing and very touching story told by Gillette about a stranger who gave him a Bible.

What's amazing about this is that Gillette, who is a self-described atheist, speaks with great admiration for the man who gave him the gift (a little New Testament with Psalms).  Upon watching the clip, I was moved on many levels, first for the way Gillette describes the man--as one who was honest, caring, and complimentary.  We Christians tend to get so defensive about our faith and so critical of the culture when talking with or about those who don't share our beliefs.

Technology, Change, and the Future of Content

Congratulations!  You are about to witness something people haven't seen in 555 years.  No, it's not a rare comet or corruption-free politics in Illinois.  What you are going to see is a complete shift in the way written content is produced and distributed.

I know, that's not the most exciting news you've encountered this week, but hear me out.  This is big.  Really big.  We are living on the cusp of history when it comes to creating, producing, distributing and consuming written content.  It may not seem like a big deal now, but in another 555 years, when people look back and consider what happened in the first decade of the 21st century, they're going to be pretty impressed, much like we are impressed when we look back 555 years to the time Johannes Gutenberg rolled out the first printing press, a technological development widely considered to be the most significant event of the last thousand years.  More significant than the Reformation, the Declaration of Independence, or Britney Spears' comeback.

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Don't Be Afraid

Everyone, it seems, is afraid of something these days.  Some people are afraid of what will happen to our nation once president-elect Obama takes office.  Others are afraid of all-out war in the Middle East.  And everyone is afraid of the economy.  We're supposed to be in a season of thanksgiving and hope, but right now you'd be hard pressed to find many people embracing these positive emotions.  Instead, you're likely to find people who are afraid.  Very afraid.

What a shame.

Fear has its merits, such as the "fight or flight" survival instinct built into animals and humans alike who, when faced with a fearful situation, either put up a fight or run for their lives.  But the kind of nail-biting fear that is gripping people these days isn't producing the fight or flight response.  Instead, the fear we are seeing around us is causing hand-wringing and paralysis.  It's the kind of fear that inspires people to do nothing except maybe wait for the tough times to end. 

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Aliens, Foreigners and Exiles

Those of us who call ourselves Christians need to remember where our allegiance lies.  As much we we like to think of our particular location in a particular country as home, it really isn't.  Especially during this season when our own nationality and our responsibility as citizens are intensified, we need to view ourselves correctly--as foreign citizens, or "resident aliens."  

To draw upon an analogy from the Old Testament--and I'm going to use several in this piece--we are rather like Abraham, who was called by God to leave his home and go to another country that God would give him as his inheritance.  "He went without knowing where he was going," the writer of Hebrews recalled.  "And even when he reached the land God had promised him, he lived there by faith--for he was like a foreigner, living in tents" (Hebrews 11:8-9).

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Time to Teach Morality Again

Call me old fashioned, but I think it's time to start teaching morality again.  You know, like they did in the old days, only without the use of certain devices designed to elicit compliance, such as the rack, chastity belts, and wooden spanking paddles like the one my junior high gym teacher, Mr. Creel, used to carry around like a trophy.

The reason I'm floating this idea isn't because of the really nasty immoral stuff we continually see all around us, stuff perpetrated by rapists, murderers, and Reality TV producers.  Although these folks seem to grab an inordinate share of attention, both from the media and our criminal courts, they represent maybe three percent of the population, and with rare exception they are probably unredeemable. 

No, I'm thinking of a much larger percentage of people, decent folks who really would like to make good moral choices, but for the lack of some quality instruction, they sometimes have trouble distinguishing right from wrong and think nothing of the negative consequences of their actions.

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Perfect Storm...Perfect Peace


In case you haven't noticed, it's kind of rough out there. Depending on what state you are in--and I mean that in an emotional sense as well as a geographic one--at this very moment you could be in a state of total shock, confusion and dismay over these three events that occurred in America within a span of just 48 hours:

  • the devastation left by Hurricane Ike in the Southwest;
  • the bankruptcy of Lehman Bros. in the Northeast, leading to an immediate layoff of 25,000 workers and the near-meltdown of the U.S. economy; or
  • the horrific train collision in Southern California that left 25 dead and hundreds injured.
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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.