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MCCULLOUGH: The powers of perception

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

I had a test recently to determine how much of my hearing I've lost due to this tumor in my head. I have a noticeable difference between my right and left ears when I talk on a phone now, so the doctors wanted to see how much of my hearing has been lost. They also wanted to establish a baseline prior to treatment. I was unprepared for the results.

"Your hearing is fine," the lady told me.

I was prepared to hear a number. A 20 percent loss or something. Didn't she hear me when I said I can't hear as well out of my right ear on the phone, that when I'm in a crowd I have trouble sometimes hearing the person who is talking to me?

But no, my ears are OK, she said, in that they function as ears should. What you may have, she said, is a perception problem. In other words, my ears are doing their job, but my brain is not always correctly interpreting the information it receives.

You really don't realize how much of a living computer your brain is until something starts messing around with it.

Anyway, in the words of our friend Darrell Huckaby, I told you that to tell you this.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the state of the world. Specifically, I've been thinking a lot about my 12-year-old daughter and her future. And I worry. A lot.

High on the worry list is a human race that is increasingly self-absorbed and averse to face-to-face contact because of technology. The dissociation wrought by endless hours spent inside communicating via bits and bytes makes social interaction more awkward, promotes bullying, cowardly anonymous criticism and the objectification of others -- it's a lot easier to run down a collection of pixels than a living, breathing person, especially when you can hide behind a screen name.

People used to talk about how selfish folks were in the 1970s and 1980s -- the Me Generation -- but those days were nothing compared to today. The focus on self has spread like a virus: endless self-protraits posted to social media, tricked-out rides, blinged-out jewelry and accessories, too-small clothes (raise your hand if you'd like to go the next 20 or 30 years without seeing some girl's butt crack at the mall), sleeves of tattoos that scream "Look at me!" -- everyone wants to stand in the spotlight, it seems, and ask, in the words of Janet Jackson, "What have you done for me lately?"

It all makes me wonder if we're really on the downhill slide as a society.

But are these times really unique? Have we gone to hell in a handbasket? I've said it before: Every generation at some point probably looks around and shakes its head.

But then I look at stories like Tripp Halstead. The little boy has been through hardships that might've killed a lot of grown-ups. The hospital bills have to be in the millions by now. You'd think in the decade of the self, it'd be impossible to get someone to do something selfless to help. But little Tripp's fundraisers are now at a level that they've stopped counting.

The selflessness doesn't stop with Tripp's supporters: Aimee Copeland, who is the living definition of paying it forward. Brookwood alum Justin Lansford, wounded serving his country. The Win for Wyn scholarship. America's biggest Relay for Life event. The list goes on and that's just in this county.

So are we really that broken? Or, like my ears, are some things working just fine but we have a harder time noticing because of something invasive, namely a pervasive selfishness?

Yes, I see a lot of people wrapped up in themselves. But I see a lot who help out each other, too, and that number seems to be growing.

I guess how much of it we see lies in our powers of perception.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.