I’m sick and tired of being addicted to instant gratification. In my last blog post I alluded to the idea that there doesn’t seem to be a central issue of our time to get behind. Perhaps this is it. The world is giving way to shorter and shorter attention spans bordering on the absurd. Like a frog that’s being boiled alive at a rate so gradually that it doesn’t even notice it, we’ve become so acclimated to this insanity of modern life that we don’t even question what’s going on.
Let me elaborate with a little anecdote about how pervasive technology has become in my life. I can’t go running without listening to music. I ride my bike while listening to music, despite the danger that obviously puts me in. I listen to music while on the bus, the metro, at the gym, hell, I’m even listening to music while writing this blog. When I’m waiting in a long line, I can’t resist reading articles on my phone. If I do resist this temptation, I get anxious. If I have to take a dump, 99% of the time I’m browsing cracked or reddit on my phone. I’ve even brought my laptop to the bathroom at times.
And this is barely scratching the surface. My entire career is predicated on being in front of a computer all day. Then when I get back home from a hard day’s work, my immediate refuge is to open up the laptop and get lost in the pixels displaying on a plasma screen. Things have gotten so bad that I actually bring my laptop in bed each night and can’t fall asleep without watching some downloaded TV show I’m following. I might as well be married to the damn thing considering I wake up with it next to me every morning.
Somehow despite all this, I manage to just take this shit for granted and function like a normal human being. I do well in school, I work, I cook almost every meal I eat, I have solid friendships, I stay fit, maintain good hygiene, etc. From everything I just described, you’d think I was a spastic weirdo or a complete zombie, but I promise you would have no idea I had these problems if you met me in real life.
The thing is, I suspect I’m not the only one like this. In fact, I’m fairly certain most of the world around me is just as technologically addicted as I am, just in different ways. Whereas my vice is primarily internet articles and youtube videos, many people are instead addicted to social media sites and taking constant selfies. I’ve seen people texting while riding skateboards. I see people texting while crossing an intersection of a busy street. I see people taking pictures of their food before eating it. I see people using selfie sticks, giving way to what has to be peak narcissism and vanity. I constantly hear stories of people binge watching Netflix. Sometimes when I’m on the metro, I see so many people hypnotized by the allure of their phones that I feel like I’m witnessing the real-life equivalent of soma. It’s horrifying, yet I can’t help but participate in this lunacy myself. Discipline is simply no match for the awesome entertainment value of smartphones and computers.
And therein lies the problem. We live in a society that values entertainment above all else, and it is morally bankrupt and self-defeating. I am by no means a religious person, but I understand that a life based on the pursuit of hedonism is spiritually empty. When you become numb and desensitized to the constant stream of entertainment, you begin to get tormented by existential questions. This is why a person with any level intelligence and self-awareness in a consumerist society is totally fucking miserable.
When you lift the veneer, strip away the constant advertisements and the reality shows and the tabloid news and the funny videos in your facebook feed, what’s left is nothing. Modern life is so dull, sterile and alienating that we have all collectively fled to escapist entertainment to fill this void. Entertainment is a self-defense mechanism against the horror of modern life. Who could objectively be happy in an environment of monotone grey asphalt and concrete, of the irritating sounds of cars blaring in the background, of the annoying hum of the air conditioning in the office, the jarring sound of construction juxtaposed with an ambulance and a truck backing up? Who can be happy amongst the chronic stress of worrying about credit card payments, being late for meetings, performing poorly on exams, checking for work emails, being stuck in traffic? Or how about spending 8 hours a day helping to maximize the profits of some investors you don’t care about and who don’t care about you? Modern work couldn’t possibly be more unfulfilling, at least for most people, especially those on the lower end of the totem pole.
The only sane response to this objectively awful environment we have fostered is to drown ourselves in entertainment. It’s a desperate attempt to forget about the nihilism of a culture that values capitalism and profit over community. The end result is that everything is now entertainment. People no longer read news to be informed, they want to be entertained. This is why Donald Trump is leading the polls in the Republican race: He is by far the most entertaining of all the candidates, and people are eating up the drama he’s causing. Our diets are based on what gives the best dopamine rush instead of what’s the healthiest to eat. Most of the things we buy are based on either entertaining ourselves or reducing the amount of boring things we have to do. We can’t even be bothered to learn important things without it being presented in an entertaining way such as a clever writing style or a well animated video.
I’m sick of it, and I’m putting an end to this depraved lifestyle of incessant digital dependence in my life. There is value in being bored. Boredom is what enriches the moments in life that are actually meaningful. Becoming comfortable with boredom is what breeds patience, wisdom, a calm serenity. It provides clarity and perspective, allows you to see what’s important in life and what you actually value.
The problem with technology is you can never really go cold turkey. It is ubiquitous and not just socially accepted, but socially ingrained. A smartphone might as well be an appendage of the human body at this point. So the best I can do is to lay out some principles and do my damn best to stick to them. In no particular order:
- Only use your phone for messaging friends and other basic functions such as checking the time, using google maps to find a nearby store, etc. Do not read emails or browse articles on the internet.
- Turn off your laptop and phone an hour before going to bed. Initially there will be a lot of insomnia and restlessness, but you will get through it.
- Your laptop is used strictly for doing work and other productive things such as looking up recipes. Don’t even listen to music when using it.
- Give up listening to music altogether for a month. If you really need to hear music, go to a concert or something.
- No phone on the John, obviously
- Do not check your phone when you’re moving or talking to others. In fact, try to check your phone as little as possible.
- If you do find yourself mindlessly browsing reddit, do not beat yourself up over it. Immediately stop and be relived that you only wasted 30 seconds of your life. Not the end of the world.
I know this is going to be challenging as hell. I’ve tried adopting these types of behaviors before and experienced some pretty intense withdrawal. After a few days, at most a week, I would always be back to my old habits. I am, however, committed to following through with these guidelines for at least a month, and will surely write about my experience at the end of this period. Wish me luck!