Some places demand quiet.
I visited one such place Sunday, the glass graveyard in Albuquerque’s Bosque.
We wandered through trees and past red and yellow leaves, crossed over a wooden bridge and crossed under a concrete bridge.
Finally, we passed through an opening in the trees and came upon a field of glass. Shards of bottles and broken dishes. Glass in green and blue, many hued, but most of what stretched before us was clear glass shimmering like water.
In one spot someone had gathered green and blue glass and laid it out on the ground to depict an island with palm trees. Someone saw this long ago trash and added an art installation. Isn’t that just the way with people? To take something broken and make it beautiful. Take the odds and ends and add new layers of meaning.
The palm trees weren’t as clearly depicted as they once were, according to the friend who led us to this quiet spot. The wind had moved the pieces into disarray. Soon, I imagine the trees will disappear completely, erased by wind, scattered until they no longer form anything but piles of shattered glass.
I think in some ways making a newspaper is a lot like creating a mural of shattered glass. You don’t know exactly who will walk past and see it. You don’t know exactly how long the impact of that work will last or how far it will reach.
Attention spans these days may not be shorter, but certainly there is more drain on our attention. More loud voices demanding we listen—look at this, look at that, an emergency this way, an embarrassment over there, a drama in that direction. We live in an attention economy, where many of the services available online are free and ad based, meaning the payment is your information and your attention.
My attention has been on the headlines that Facebook had internal studies showing the negative impact Instagram was having on young girls’ mental health. Apparently paying attention to filtered faces and playing the comparison game is not good for teen wellbeing. I imagine it’s not great for adult well being either.
Of course, that is a neat conclusion that fits into my already existing assumptions. While tempting to believe, it seems the truth is more complicated, as it often is. Follow up stories from several outlets have pointed to the limited scope of the leaked studies and to the benefits of social media use, like keeping teens connected to their friends, especially during the last year. It seems like it will take a lot more study to really understand the full impact of social media use and the constant demands the internet places on our attention.
Still, what we focus on can shape our sense of reality and our sense of ourselves.
In a world filled with so many opportunities for distraction, so many demands on our attention, sustained attention is a powerful thing.
Focused effort, selecting just the right shades of green to form palm trees from shattered glass, is a powerful thing.