The City of Distraction

You know what I’ve noticed about Los Angeles? It’s full of distraction. Like a fruitcake with too much fruit, it suffers from an abundance of what gave it its identity. The up-and-coming band, the divisive indie film, the hotshot performance artist, the sold-out-in-1.4-seconds exhibition at LACMA. “But that’s true of any major city,” you might say. And you might be right, save for the fact that not only do we have a uniquely concentrated array of industries here (entertainment, fashion, art, tech, etc), but also a unrivalled number of people who, I believe, are uniquely obsessed with what they do.

These people generally swing to both extremes. Either you get the obnoxiously flagrant types who enjoy spending all day pushing it in your face that their work is awesome, or the understated artist or entrepreneur who spends her days hacking away at her craft only to embrace the city and its diversity in quiet humility when around others. I don’t know about you but I began in the former group, for sure.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the most successful of the two types always ends up being the modest craftsman. I maintain that those at the very top of their game are those who don’t brag about it. The real test of a hero is she who would save a hundred lives despite knowing that no one would ever find out. So the most striking thing about arrogance, ostentatiousness, and show-offs in this city is that despite knowing that the path to success lies not in ‘uppishness,’ they persist in shouting about their success.

Where has our sense of humility and self-doubt gone? Did we forget it on the plane over here? Boston and Chicago may be a pit of grey snow for half the year but somehow they have preserved a heightened degree of modesty. New Englanders and their beaten up Subarus and dusty bookcases have even cultivated their own stereotype of frugality. If this is the other extreme to LA’s boasting, then where’s the middle ground? 

It is often said that we are living in the age of the troubadour. He who sings loudest wins. Social media has only aided this mantra, but like many faces of modernity it is an artificial one. Our feeds have become a figurative cry for attention, lest our self-esteem crumbles. It’s become a platitude to bemoan the fact we invest so much emotional energy in these somewhat fleeting technologies, when it might otherwise be spent getting to understand the human sitting next to you, or thinking about how to solve a meaningful problem. No wonder yoga and meditation have skyrocketed in popularity over the past decade. People are looking for a remedy for their distracted minds. LA more than any other city, it seems, feeds into the distraction – a symptom of our current age of anxiety.

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