If you ever want to prove the rule of atrophy, just go on a holiday.
We left the house in mostly working order. WiFi, phones, alarms, pets, cars all up and running.
But when we came back last night, the gremlins had struck. The power was out, which had tripped our alarm, which had sent the dogs into a two day frenzy. Phone and WiFi has disconnected. The car was dead. And so on.
If you throw a bunch of bricks in the air, it’s almost impossible that they will land on top of each other in a nice organised wall. Atrophy is a natural order of things. It means that everything falls apart and bends toward chaos, unless it is maintained.
Just ask my dogs.
When your phone is glued to your hand come rain or shine – there is a problem.
The constant refreshing of a few apps over and over and over – like a mad man expecting different results but doing the exact same thing. And it’s all for consumption – for keeping up to date and for dopamine. Not for creation.
This blog is for creation though. These words were not here before i put them on the page. No newsfeed. No reading. Just my own words.
Take that, social media. Because sometimes you really suck.
As an experiment, try and find the habits in your daily life that are driven by pleasure – you know the ones i mean – those things you do when you’re a little bit bored which give you that nice little buzz and dopamine hit.
It is difficult. It forces you to reflect on your actions and life, and it eventually forces you to recognise that pleasurable things are not the most fulfilling things, precisely because they are temporary and external. In this way, pleasure is different to happiness.
Pleasure is a momentary feeling that comes from something external — a good meal, a message notification, making love and so on. Pleasurable experiences can give us momentary feelings of satisfaction, but this feeling does not last long because it is dependent upon external events and experiences. Try and locate the pleasurable (not happy, remember) activity in your life and try to stop doing it for a whole day – I’m almost certain you’ll find it hard to do.
But pleasure is not wrong in and of itself – so why stop? Because we need to know how we feel without the constant pleasure seeking. Are we doing all these things because we are sad without them? And if we are in fact sad about something, shouldn’t we find a more permanent solution?
The trouble comes when we ascribe the pleasurable activities in our lives more value and power than we should. A drug addict gives heroine priority over everything else – she sees it as the source of her happiness and of her power in life. Similarly a bulimic ascribes power to food and the control thereof. In actual fact, drugs and throwing up give us but a temporary pleasure – not a true satisfaction. They are not the answer to any sadness that is felt.
Once we see the things we are deriving pleasure from, a useful next step is to reflect on how we feel when we do not have access to these things – are we happy or sad without them? If we are happy without them, then there is no real problem. Carry on living.
If we are sad without them, and furthermore if we rely on the activity more than we should – then something needs to change for the sadness to lift.
There is simply too much to read. The internet is endless and ever growing.
That’s why companies like Facebook and Twitter have done so well. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, if you’re bored or if you’re lonely, these companies will give you something to look at. It will link up with your social life, your browsing history and your location too, if you let it (yes, there is a choice). It will make you feel pleasure and excitement for a fleeting moment.
Calling the main page on Facebook and Twitter a “feed” is no coincidence. Like a baby screeching for mother’s milk, these companies recognize our thirst for connections and take the thought out of choosing what to read and what
But can we do better and can we read better? Any reading for a purpose is better than the default Facebook addiction. Managing what we expose ourselves to is a full time job but it’s worth it. Choose books and newsletters and RSS feeds. Choose active reading over passive consumption. Better yet, read something purely for the purpose of creating something.
Imagine you got rid of all the worst things in your day-to-day job. No more commute with the masses, no more mind numbing meetings or menial tasks, no more annoying co-workers who you are forced to share a room with. No more awful boss nagging you. Imagine all of that was gone – now what would be left?
I bet the answer is that you would be alone with yourself and a blank slate in front of you to fill with….something. It’s a liberating and terrifying thought.
As human beings we crave freedom and we crave fulfillment in our work. The flip-side of our condition is we are inherently fearful beings. We don’t naturally seek to make our own rules. We like to be part of a tribe with someone to follow.
So to be free we must draw lines in the sand. If we are stuck somewhere we don’t want to be, we must define why we don’t like it and plan to eliminate the negatives from our life. If we have all the freedom in the world, but spend all our time being unproductive, then we need to draw a line in the sand and make a change. Maybe sell all your time-wasting devices. Maybe buy a new device ONLY for stuffing around.
We draw our own lines in the sand, or we follow someone else who draws them for us.
Seth’s latest is about the most succinct and important post I have read this year. Give it a read:
What interests me is the perspective that Seth has on the issues he raises – namely he is American and is at the heart of the most developed, sophisticated economy in the world – and the media he is exposed to is a reflection of that. On the other hand, I live in Africa.
In many ways, we Africans are leapfrogging Americans and Europeans in terms of consuming media – we are keen to use technology. We get the latest TV shows, movies and sports from all over the world. Premier league soccer games are passionately followed even in the poorest slums in Nairobi. We have access to Twitter, Facebook and the internet. Mobile telephones have been taken up far quicker here than they were in the developed world – so there is a case to be made that the surplus of the internet and the ‘race to the bottom’ trends Seth speaks of are likely accelerating quicker here than in the USA.
There is also huge scarcity in Africa – however rather than an artificial scarcity controlled by the FCC or its local equivalent, African scarcity is driven largely by poverty. Unfortunately poverty combines very neatly with any media agenda that is pushing us to think short term – to care about now and not later. I think Africa’s environmental degradation and lack of investment in culture or education is in part a reflection of this. Scarcity is in conflict with the ubiquitous internet. I am still getting my head around how this plays out locally in terms of media consumption. The pace of change and media consumption is slower because of scarcity. Access is restricted. Africans cannot contribute as much to their own media and culture because of poverty. We are influenced by other continents far more than we should be. Just ask a local if he’d watch South African or English soccer. My bet is England any day of the week because of the exposure it has gotten through the TV networks.
Despite these differences between geographies, Seth’s ending point is still completely true the world over: “We’ve been willing participants in this daily race for our attention and our emotions. But we don’t have to be.”
Every now and then we must get out and do something other than consume.
I remember asking my parents when I was a teen “Should you focus more on what someone does or what someone says?”
At the time I was talking about a love interest who was playing games with my heart (cue Backstreet Boys song) but the sentiment still is important.
And the answer is that action trumps words every time. Words come and go, but action shows someone something that is undeniable.
The next question of course is, what are you going to do next? What do you want to show to yourself and to those who are important to you?