Summertime blues


An old song notes that there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues. Well, true enough. I’ve sure had a pretty blah week. As I slouch down in my beach chair, hiding from my wife who is wielding a list of chores I’ve been avoiding, I’m going to mention a couple of unrelated items.

Here’s my first item: Mars.

A couple of days ago, at a distance of 35.8 million miles, Mars came closer to Earth than it’s been since 2003. It will be 2035 until Mars gets any closer. So in terms of proximity we’re near a 32-year sweet spot. Hey, that’s pretty cool.

For those who are interested in taking a look I’ll just give a quick mention here today, since I did a lot of yammering about planets on June 15 in this space (“Mars vs. Venus After Dinner.”)

This weekend, as the sun is setting, Mars will be breaking over Saipan’s southeast horizon. A couple of hours after sunset Mars will have climbed about 25 degrees over the horizon. It will be big, bright, and red. Well, it’s sort of orange to my eye, but “red” in the eyeball-astronomy context often means reddish-orangish. That’s as opposed to “blue,” which often means bluish-whitish. Well, now you know, even if you didn’t want to.

Professional and amateur telescopes have been soaking up a lot of Mars action lately. I’ll probably join the amateur action next week when the new moon comes around.

I don’t have high hopes. That’s because Mars hates me. Every time I’ve looked at that doggone planet it has looked like a blob. I’ve seen no surface features. For all I know, some joker has put a sun-bleached tomato in front of my telescope.

So, for my money, Mars is a better sight with the bare eye than with a telescope.

And now for my second item: media consumption.

My dad was an advertising guy. I grew up looking at the trade press, which often included the latest studies about media consumption. Those were the pre-Internet days. The notion that people would be carting computers in their pockets was mere science fiction back then. But what was easy to recognize, even in the days of black-and-white TV screens, was the hypnotic hold that electronic screens had on most people.

Anyway, it’s now being reported that Americans spend over 11 hours a day consuming electronic media. This includes television (4.8 hours per day of “live” and “recorded” programs) and smartphones (2.4 hours per day). This is based on data for the first quarter of 2018 by Nielsen.

I wonder how the CNMI would measure up against this data. I suspect the islands have a larger than average share of people who aren’t addicted to electronic screens.

If you’re wondering whether or not habitual screen-staring will turn your eyeballs into mush, well, funny you should ask. Acuvue, a maker of contact lenses, understandably takes a professional interest in such things. A recent survey performed by Acuvue said that the average office worker in the U.K. spends about 1,700 hours a year (or 6.5 hours a day) in front of a computer screen.

With that in mind, if you add up work hours, non-work hours, computers, smartphones, and TVs, it seems likely that many people, perhaps even most (at least in modern office cultures), spend essentially their entire waking lives using electronic screens.

Entire books, and entire medical studies, are going to be written about this someday. I’ll just offer one beach-chair observation. I see some segmentation going on here. The screen people, and the non-screen people (to the extent anyone in modern society can be such a thing), seem to be polarizing as they clump around their own kinds.

I’ve seen divorces over such things. One person’s hallowed time with the family at Thanksgiving dinner is another person’s opportunity to put a selfie on the Web. The technology isn’t the real issue, it’s merely an amplified reflection of a deeper difference in outlooks.

Well, speaking of a difference in outlooks, I’m being beckoned so I can wash the cars. I’d better come up with a diversionary tactic right away.

Hey, honey! Look! Mars!

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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