Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Agony of Being with Ourselves

While reading an article on Karl Ove Knausgaard on the Guardian (I'm fascinated by anyone who can make a living by writing and not have report to an office), I came across this comment which I thought was particularly well-written and I liked it so much I copied it down:
Actually, human beings (even modern ones) are perfectly content being bored and doing nothing. Left to our own devices in a society that didn't try to distract us from our own experience at every waking moment, and didn't demand constant and usually needless self-improvement of one kind or another, doing nothing or not very much would be what most of us would choose to do. Instead, we have allowed the growth of an economic system that enslaves not only our time (as has always been true) but increasingly our minds and appetites, making activity (economic or otherwise) our default modus operandi and of course enriching the few who feed off the spoils of our agitation. Boredom in post-industrial capitalism is a vacuum that must be filled - that has been engineered never to go unfilled - and in being filled so remorselessly has become for many people an existential horror as dreaded as dead air time on the radio.

I have a social media fantasy in which billions of consumers around the world would voluntarily refuse to consume, even for a day, all those things we waste so much of lives on: goods, products and especially services such as social media. The pundits and politicians would despair at the lack of economic activity, growth forecasts would tumble, but life would go on. No, it would be reclaimed. We've let our world become a Looney Tunes cartoon, full of sound and fury, signifying not very much that's of any lasting value.
And another put it more succinctly:
We now live in a society where you're not allowed to have a minute of down time. Very, very sad people don't feel comfortable with their own thoughts.
Welcome to the summer of nothingness – how one book made it hip to be bored (The Guardian)

Where it sat on my hard drive awaiting its use. Well, last week, you may have heard the story, widely reported, that people would rather administer electric shocks to themselves than be left along with their own thoughts:
People, and especially men, hate being alone with their thoughts so much that they’d rather be in pain. In a study published in Science  Thursday on the ability of people to let their minds “wander” — that is, for them to sit and do nothing but think — researchers found that about a quarter of women and two-thirds of men chose electric shocks over their own company.

“We went into this thinking that mind wandering wouldn’t be that hard,” said Timothy Wilson, University of Virginia professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “People usually think of mind wandering as being a bad thing, because it interrupts when you’re trying to pay attention. But we wanted to see what happens when mind wandering is the goal.”

Wilson didn’t think his subjects would struggle with the task. “We have this big brain full of pleasant memories, and we’re able to tell ourselves stories and make up fantasies. But despite that, we kept finding that people didn’t like it much and found it hard.”
Would you rather shock yourself than just sit there? (Marginal Revolution)

The sheer terror of being alone with our thoughts (The Week)

Most Prefer Electric Shocks To Solitary Thinking (Future Pundit)

Shocking but true: students prefer jolt of pain to being made to sit and think (The Guardian)

I suspect this is a modern affliction. I also suspect that Americans would be far more uncomfortable than any other people on earth (especially Scandinavians) being alone and silent with their thoughts. We need to distract ourselves from birth to death to make living in this society tolerable.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect it's the extroverts who are not comfortable with their own thoughts... we introverts love it.


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