As a proud member of the so-called "Generation X," I resent the notion that
growing up in the era of MTV has somehow left all the members of my age
group with a dramatically shortened attention span. Not only is this
accusation patently false, but it also, um, it also, uh. wait, what was I
Oh yeah, short attention spans. OK, so maybe there's an element of truth to
the criticism. But it's not our fault. Just in my lifetime, Americans' lives
have become so dominated by a constant barrage of visual and auditory
stimulation that it's no wonder many of us have trouble focusing.
Much of this stimulation comes in the form of TV screens, which have cropped
up anywhere they can find a captive audience, including such previously
private spaces as public restrooms, elevators, waiting rooms and who knows,
probably confessionals too. Not surprisingly, most of these TV screens are
showing advertisements. After all, why let people get lost in quiet
reflection when they could instead spend the time learning about the healing
power of a new hemorrhoid cream or watching that creepy old guy dance in the
Six Flags commercials?
It's certainly no secret why places like 7-11 position TV screens to capture
shoppers' attention as they wait in line. 7-11's entire business model
depends on customers not taking a moment to reconsider whether it's such a
good idea to buy that 64-ounce Jolt Cola Slurpee and chili cheese dog.
With so many entertainment options competing for our attention today, I
often wonder what people did to pass the time before the advent of modern
media. I imagine a family sitting around the living room in the evening and
the father turning to the mother and asking, "So, what's on tonight?" before
catching himself and muttering, "Oh yeah, nothing."
The inescapable conclusion is that life before TV, movies, radio and the
Internet must have been extraordinarily boring. Then again, back then,
boring was probably good. Being bored meant that, for example, you weren't
dying a slow, miserable death from the plague and that your village wasn't
being overrun by bloodthirsty Cossacks.
Interestingly, I've come to adopt this same attitude whenever I fly. If I'm
bored I'm not trying to change a screaming toddler's dirty diaper in the
phone booth-sized bathroom and none of the engines are bursting into flames.
When the captain says we'll be sitting on the tarmac for another three hours
while they try to fix a stuck Fetzer Valve, my attitude is, "Fine by me."
I'll gladly busy myself taking another pass at the Skymall Catalog.
Speaking of which, does anyone ever actually buy anything from Skymall?
Whenever I thumb through it, all the merchandise reminds me of that tired
old movie plot where some poor shlub stands to inherit a large fortune from
a long-lost relative, but the will stipulates that he first has to blow
through $1 million in 24 hours and somehow come away with no tangible
assets. With Skymall, I feel like you could order every air ionizer,
climate-controlled pet carrier, solar-powered nose hair trimmer and
countless of the catalog's other pricey gadgets and easily wind up with
nothing to show for all that money except maybe two well-groomed nostrils.
That and the fortune you'd inherit, of course.
Unfortunately, wills with such unusual conditions appear to exist
exclusively in the world of fiction. In real life, we have to satisfy
ourselves with the likes of Leona Helmsley, who recent opted to express an
unequivocal middle finger to her heirs from beyond the grave by leaving a
substantial sum to her dog. While setting aside $12 million for the care of
her beloved Maltese, Trouble, Helmsley's will explicitly stated that two of
her grandchildren were to receive nothing, "for reasons that are known to
First of all, Leona, way to do everything in your power to posthumously beat
that bum "Queen of Mean" rap. Boy, were we wrong about you! But otherwise,
well done in sticking it to your ingrate grandchildren. Sure, I would have
preferred if you had instead followed another popular TV show plot device
and specify that the kids could only collect their inheritance on the
condition that they spend an entire night in a run down old haunted mansion,
but this is still pretty good.
The only other way Helmsley could have improved her will is if there had
been another, less-favored household dog she could have cut out as well: "To
my toy poodle Schnitzel I leave absolutely nothing. He knows what he did. On
the Persian rug. Bad dog!"
Then again, maybe the will did include a stipulation like this. I got
distracted in the middle of the article and never bothered to finish reading
the story. My mind does tend to wander sometimes.