Complex ideas take time — and we no longer have any. Shrinking attention is changing the kinds of stories we can tell. This has already dumbed down our entertainment. We could be next.
Deep thought may be our defining capacity as a species. Like any capacity, it can get stronger with practice or weaker with neglect. The stories we tell and ideas we give our attention to, shape our collective thoughts and minds.
Stories are the connective tissue of society.
Movies used to be central to our zeitgeist. They were the big stories that connected whole Generations. They struggle to claim that kind of cultural prominence now. People have less time. There are too many options at the box office and on other media.
The Godfather is one of the best films ever made. If you want to watch it, you need to set aside 3 hours. Many classics require a similar investment.
Cities are changing, but our expectations of what cities can do for us might not be changing so much. Planet Money founder Adam Davidson’s New York Times Magazine essay shares what is now a quaint story: the author’s ancestors moved a century ago to the central Massachusetts city and worked their way to the middle class and beyond. Davidson’s great-great-grandfather started as a fruit vendor and tonic salesman, selling to fellow immigrants who worked in factories. Each generation built on the previous one’s successes: the fruit vendor’s children worked as stenographers and bookkeepers; their children in turn became lawyers, accountants, and executives. Davidson acknowledges that manufacturing center “Worcester wasn’t anybody’s first choice,” but it was “an engine of betterment,” a place where reasonable dignity was reasonably possible — and a place with a way out. Despite today’s “dead industry and collapsing buildings,” Worcester still attracts those priced out from popular coastal cities. And the story ends with a beautiful line from Ahmed Yusef, an Iraqi immigrant who put down roots in Worcester and sees it as a place to build a better life. “You like Worcester,” Davidson says to him. “No,” Yusef responds. “Not like. Love. I love it. I have a future. New York is for dreams. Worcester is for working.” Working and dreaming, another generation enters the city …