In Praise of Cluelessness

I am somewhat “culturally challenged”—or, as my kids might put it, totally clueless—and it’s my own fault.

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that I have disengaged from much of popular culture. I don’t watch much TV. I don’t see many movies. We ended our newspaper delivery after the paper shrank to a few pages of information I can easily find online. The only magazine I get now is “Outdoor Photographer,” although I used to subscribe to a couple more. Ever since a generous friend gave me an iPod, I have listened to that instead of the radio. I stay current with the topics I choose—enough politics to vote intelligently, national and international headlines, local happenings, environmental issues, the state of the Church—through my iGoogle page… and I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to.

Then there’s my wardrobe. I guess I’m just not that stylish. Last year my two grown daughters gave me money for my birthday and told me to go “buy something that isn’t brown.” What’s wrong with brown? It’s one of my best colors, and it doesn’t scare the wildlife when I’m out with my binoculars or camera. (I dutifully went out and bought a couple of sweaters, one red and one green. I wear them to church and when my daughters are visiting.)

At one point in my life, I saw lots of movies. I knew who the popular musicians were, and what songs were climbing the charts. I owned the “right” clothes, did my best to tame my curls (long and straight was very big in the early 70s), and got contacts. I wasn’t a trend-setter, but I managed to keep up with them.

Then I got distracted. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I could either learn the names of television and movie personalities, or of plants and animals, but I didn’t have time for both. Decisions, decisions. Well, now I can take you to a tide pool and point out the Hymenamphiastra cyanocrypta and the Anthopleura xanthogrammica (at right), but I have no clue about the identity of those people on the magazine covers at the checkout line. That’s fine with me.

About the same time, our income made me choose between filling my closet with the latest trends, or using my clothing budget to buy birdseed, go places, and support more missionaries. Priorities again. Well, avoiding the latest fashion fad means I actually keep most of my clothes until they wear out, without looking ridiculous in the meantime. Plus, I sure enjoy those Evening Grosbeaks at my feeder!

A huge advantage of living unplugged is the lack of advertising. Even my web browsing is largely ad-free, thanks to my husband’s computer savvy. Without television, radio, or magazines telling me what to buy, I’m a marketer’s worst nightmare. On the other hand, it’s much easier to stick to a budget when there are fewer temptations to overspend.

There have been some trade-offs. Our older daughter loves movies, and I don’t know enough to discuss that topic with her. Ditto with my TV-addicted friends. I miss the point of some jokes at church, and many more on the blogs I regularly read. Perhaps most significantly, I can’t make cool cultural references like the other bloggers do. I hope you don’t mind.

Becoming culturally clueless was a conscious decision I made. There isn’t enough time (and I don’t have enough energy) to keep up on the latest entertainment news, recognize that song playing on the radio, worry about my wardrobe, and still enjoy the things that matter the most to me. So I’m a “beak geek” (as my husband puts it): I can often identify a bird as it zips past in a blur of brown feathers. I know the names and growing requirements of hundreds of plants. And most importantly, I can focus on loving God and loving others. What could be more important?

Are you up on the latest of everything? What am I missing out on? What are your priorities, and do your calendar and checkbook reflect them?

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One thought on “In Praise of Cluelessness

  1. I think it’s a good point that investing lots of time and money into being “hip” isn’t necessarily a good thing.

    However, being able to stay up with the current culture can help people relate to one another, and spark relationships. When people identify within a culture (often through behaviors, rituals, customs… whether that be what we wear, talk about, eat, or activities we participate in) that creates a comfort zone so that we open up to each other. In this way, I believe that staying relatively current is important. Especially for outreach! This doesn’t mean you have to be super trendy or anything… but keeping aware of the culture around you is always beneficial.

    But, knowing what movie star is on a diet and who is dating who… yeah, I pass on that, too!

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