The Long Way Home 3.10.23

There once was a semi-retired freight peddler who worked part-time for our company in the Twin Cities. Bob Mencke spent most of his life selling freight transportation, when he wasn’t golfing. He also had a joke in answer to any joke you might tell him.

“Steve,” he said, “There are really only ten jokes, and all jokes are variations of one of those ten.”

As I’ve been reading more fiction, especially police procedurals and private eye adventures, I see they all are variations of the same story. Evil bad guys, usually quite wealthy, steal and kill with impunity until the imperfect detective finally brings them down.

So I broke my promise and started a couple of non-fiction books. First was Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. A true story that I’d never heard before. The Osage Indians were displaced to a reservation in Oklahoma in the 1800s, to a land that unbeknownst to The White Father in Washington sat atop massive oil fields. In the 1920s, the Osage Nation, because they owned the rights to that oil, had the highest number of wealthy people per capita than anywhere else in America. All thanks to the country’s growing addiction to Texas Tea. 

Of course the allure of easy money drove some white folks in the area to finagle their way into the oil rights, and for many it took murder to get their mitts on those rights. Eventually the fledgling FBI started to solve the murders, but not until dozens of the Osage fell victim to the killers. Worth checking out the story, if not the book. It’s a shame what outrage we tolerate against Native Americans.

Now I’m reading Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention--and How to Think Deeply Again written by journalist Johann Hari. I’ve attributed my recent inability to focus as a result of advancing years. Turns out there’s a great deal more involved, including social media and portable internet access tools. 

One key finding in the book is the fact that believing in multi-tasking is believing in a fantasy. Seemed like I was fairly good with multi-tasking when younger, but as time passed, so has my ability to keep two or more things in front of mind at any given time. 

An example of the distraction of technology was a visit Hari made to Graceland, the mansion of the late Elvis Presley, now a museum and shrine to the first “King of Rock and Roll.” Visitors to Graceland are not guided by a living tour guide. Instead they receive an iPad that shows a picture of what part of the museum you’re in along with earbuds to hear relevant narration.  

Hari reports that he heard one middle aged couple, while they were in the “jungle room” of the mansion, standing side-by-side staring at their iPads. The husband said something like, “Look dear, if you swipe left you see the left side of this room and if you swipe right you see the right side.” This while they were actually in the room and could have kept eyes up and turned their head to see the real thing. Hari pointed this out to them, but his observation was not well received. 

I’m not opposed to technology, the internet, or handheld screens. But when those tools, and tools they are, take away your attention from the reality you’re in right now, we have a problem.