THE OFFICE – It’s here somewhere, maybe under this pile of magazines which is under a pile of books. No, so I’ll look on this chair which holds some catalogues, more newspapers and printouts of articles I read online and want to keep. This time I am looking for “The Wit and Wisdom of Calvin Coolidge.” Is this your problem, too? I am on the receiving end of TMI. In the past TMI has stood for Three Mile Island, Texas Military Institute and, of course, Transmarginal Inhibition, but for me TMI stands for Too Much Information, which is also a song recorded by The Police and Duran Duran.
Don’t you love it when some paranoid friend says, “But the media won’t tell us.” Huh? We have more newspapers, magazines and online publications than we can handle. What do you read? I get my daily local newspaper, plus The New York Times and a neighborhood weekly freebee that tells me how much my school taxes will be increased. I used to get the Wall Street Journal, but it had too many jokes and cartoons. However, I do miss those “Donald Trump Is Almost Normal” editorials. Magazines? Four weekly or monthly, I think, although Texas Monthly seems to come daily, and it’s about 99 percent ads. They all pile up in my den, office, in my weekender in Varicose Valley. The fire marshals are worried. Unread books? I have them stacked around, and keep thinking if I just put some by my elbow I can absorb them through osmosis. Do you do this? Rip out a page from some publication with the idea that you don’t need to keep the entire paper, and you’ll read this article tomorrow, or at least next week. When the paper turns yellow, it’s time to read it.
Go to any Barnes & Noble and check out the magazine section. You will see dozens, scores, maybe a couple of hundred publications: Guns & Guts, Guts & Guns, Muggers Monthly, Fifth Wedding Gazette, DWI Digest. Something for everyone. If you don’t want to know the news from the country music scene, restaurants, taxidermy and home breweries, you may not have this problem. Maybe you don’t have cable or satellite TV, although almost 80 percent of American homes do. I get about 250 channels and watch 10 or 12 max. Bundling is the key. Congress (after a nice fund-raiser) decreed we really do need to take 250 channels, including the Esperanto Channel, Quilting Corner and Faux News. I tape programs to be seen later. Spoiler alert: Don’t tell me how World War II ends. We also have the Internet. Want to check on events in India? The New Delhi Times tells us: “Praveen Rana to replace Narsingh Yadav.” Now you know. The Chinese Reporter from Hong Kong on the PLA, or Peoples Liberation Army of China: “PLA begins live-fire drill near border with Myanmar.” And you thought the term “Chinese fire drill” was just an insult.
Americans may be a first: the first overly informed society in history. Or we could be, if only we kept up. According to a new CNN/ORC poll, 29 percent of Americans say they think that Obama is a Muslim, including 43 percent of Republicans. (I happen to know he’s a card-carrying Democrat.)
A poll commissioned by the American Bar Association found that only one-third of adult Americans can correctly identify the Bill of Rights, and less than 1 in 10 know it was adopted to protect them against abuses by the Federal Government, and – get this — it was a multi-choice question. Some 28 percent said the Bill of Rights was a preamble to the Constitution; 22 percent said it is any rights bill passed by Congress; 7 percent chose “a message of rebellion from the Founding Fathers to the British monarchy.” Ten percent said they didn’t know. Maybe TMI stands for Too Many Idiots.
So while we have access to an overabundance of knowledge, we don’t bother. Why? I think it’s because we have no curiosity or interest, in this case it’s the same thing. I once had an editor named Henry Hoffman who came to my desk one afternoon, handed me some papers, and said: “Put this together and do a story.” I shuffled through the pile and said, “I’m not interested in this.” He replied, “You should be interested in everything.” He didn’t add, “as a journalist,” but I got his drift. Millions of intelligent people over the centuries have loved opera and golf. I tried both and can pass, even if Tiger Woods is the lead baritone. I’ve never been much interested in poetry except for dirty limericks. Do you care about kale? It’s hot these days; celebrity chefs put kale in everything. I just used a semicolon, which is an unnecessary punctuation so I don’t care about it or them.
Maybe I’m just interested in the wrong things, like bagpipe music, the old Southwest Conference and of course, Transmarginal Inhibition. I spend too much time reading the fine print on aerosol cans, but do you know that Scrubbing Bubbles contains both corn starch and dimethyl oxazolidine? So I keep these founts of knowledge until I’ve read or seen them because they may contain interesting information. However, others may not share our need for absorption. We are called “pig pens,” “trashy” and “low down slobs who give pack rats a bad name.” (By the same token, be suspicious of people with clean desks and full wastebaskets. They are probably uninteresting themselves.) So I think we can all agree that there is a direct link between curiosity/interest and piles of untouched stuff. Call them “collectibles.” Keep that in mind when the fire marshal comes calling. But now it is time for me to start digging into my stuff. Here’s a newspaper. What’s this? Custer’s dead? Next thing I know a woman will be running for president.
Ashby is uninterested at firstname.lastname@example.org