“Passive experience, no matter the medium, translates to feelings of boredom and disconnection.”
I read this quote in the context of an article about how Facebook makes people feel when they use it. In the past year the only way I’ve interacted with Facebook has been via someone else’s profile, and not wanting to misrepresent her or myself, my only option was to be passive. While it was nice to see what our friends were up to, I regularly would find myself closing the window and in a huge funk that wasn’t there before. So in a completely subjective and empirical case study with a sample size of one (myself) I found this to be completely true.
The key truth to the quote, and the reason I really took note of it, however is the “no matter the medium” part. The two feelings listed, disconnection and boredom, are pretty cutting to me because those two feelings, especially wrapped up together are exactly what I’ve noticed myself feeling on a somewhat regular basis. I read the news, get a lot of emails that don’t require a response, have little work (unemployed), or, applicable even when I was employed, have little outlet for creative thought or idea generation. Almost immediately after the most passive experiences, such as surfing the internet for over an hour with no particular goal in mind, I find myself asking questions like “what’s the purpose of life?” Not in a depressed or suicidal way, but in a bored, frustrated, irritated ennui for everything and everyone.
In school, even in the work I was doing wasn’t novel, I would almost inevitably end up with a twenty page stack of physics or math that I had created and strangely, although only a couple of those pages would end up with useful information on them, I had a sense of purpose and satisfaction attached to that stack that I just can’t seem to find. Lately I’ve taken a real interest in programming. I would hypothesize that a large part of it is that the only real limit to what you can produce is your knowledge and your computing power, although I don’t think I’ve ever run up against the latter. You can bang away all day, the same as with physics and math, and regardless of whether or not you actually get somewhere, you’ll end up with a stack (or heap if you prefer A little computing humor…) of stuff that is your own work. Not many things allow you to do that in that way with little to no input other than your ideas and time.
A real indicator of the state I’ve been in lately is that I’ve lost interest in reading stories. That quote has made me begin to think if that isn’t because reading isn’t interesting, but rather just a hair to passive, too similar to the news or impersonal emails. The stuff I actually can read and can consume quite voraciously is everything about making and building and creating: science experiments, knives, code, computers, electronics, art, wooden spoons and bowls, cryptography, math, etc. It’s as if somehow over the last decade, starting with my building a Tesla coil, I’ve worked up this frenzied, self-fueling content generation engine inside of me (worthwhile content or stuff more along the lines of self-involved blog posts…) that, if not fueled, will slowly eat away at me. I’ve found that it has the capacity to really mess with my mood, my friendships and relationships, even my ability to organize myself and my thoughts, and simply feel intelligent. It’s like a spoiled little child lives inside my head and when he doesn’t get the candy or the toy he wants, he starts to scream, destroy the room and the slowly work his way through the house breaking things and causing havoc.
I have also notices that it really helps for the writing/thinking/building/programming to have some direction or some purpose. Without something, I pretty easily lose focus and interest. Example: In college I really excelled in abstract algebra. I think I missed about 3 points out of 500 that determined our grade for the class. I had eagerly awaited it for its applications to Rubik’s cubes and other twisty puzzles. So after my first semester of it, the next logical progression was to the graduate course, right? Well, it may have been because I was a second semester senior, or any number of things, but I really lost interest once we got to more advanced and more abstract concepts like rings and modules, I kind of tuned out. I didn’t study for the final, got a C, but switched to pass/fail so it didn’t affect my GPA. Now still, I pick up my books from school determined to work my way through them, but just lack the discipline to get further than chapter two or three. I know it’s not unique, but I just definitely benefit with a little bit more of a demand placed on the specific topic at hand.
This all brings me around to the question weighing very heavily on me lately: what are my reasons to do anything at all? I think that’s both a valid and also a deeply flawed question at the same time. To never ask it would be to leave a door closed that could be powerfully insightful into what drives a person. The fatal flaw of the question arises when I find it impossible to do something without first not only asking it but also needing to have an answer. Having categorical answers to that question for all of the things that we do… we’re lucky if we get those before we die! Mostly, I think a “because it makes me happy” is the only thing for which we can truly ask. But we don’t always do things because that specific activity is what makes us happy, but might eventually lead to happiness for oneself or others. The damning part of it all is when you can’t remember what makes you happy. That leads to the question “if I nothing really makes me happy, what’s the point of doing anything at all?” and then “why bother?” which, as a creative and intelligent twenty-four year old with wonderful friends and family, is NOT the question I should be asking myself! I should, and have been trying to, ask myself “what are your limits?” and “how can I overcome them?” ”When do I find myself not looking at the clock and skipping meals because I’m so caught up in the project on which I’m working?” And finally, “how can I do more of that?” I have those moments still, where I go from 9 to 2 working on some project, I just have to remember how to see that as a good thing to be doing and where I need to be at that point.
In talking with my counselor last week, I kept finding myself (and she kept find me) asking about the “right” thing to do at any given point, or at least expressing uncertainty about the things that I was doing for wont of trying finding a “right” thing. She brought up that there’s no way to know that until it’s done. Hmmm. Very few things could be more true. For some reason, and it has been this way for a long time, I can’t help but try and figure out all possible outcomes and work backwards to the best possible solution for the different options at hand. When the options are infinite, or even many, this leads to one thing: paralysis. I do this everywhere though: relationships, jobs, school, and anywhere that uncertainty seems to arise in my life. Frankly, while it’s sometimes a useful way to approach a situation or problem, I really don’t like the thought patterns that arise from it and find myself often really limited by it. While I wouldn’t ask to have been born without it, because it has obviously been a part of making me who I am today, it has proven to be very stressful and a hindrance over which I wish I had more control.
So passivity, disconnection and boredom. After two years of exactly that I’m ready to break this self-doubting and weighty shell I’ve built up against new things, people and experiences. Sure, I’ve always had my eccentricities about things (certain types of parties, certain people, certain types of events… such as “icebreakers” and “teambuilding” *shudder*, etc.) and I will continue to unapologetically hold those, but all of the new layers those things have accumulated and all the dust they’ve collected in the past few years needs to be shed and trimmed down to what it used to be. It’s definitely no one else’s fault, and it happened so incrementally that I didn’t even really notice. I’m now the only one who can fix it and I’m determined to. Doing things “because I could” or because others didn’t do them is what made me who I am: juggling, Rubik’s cubes, Tesla coils, dressing up as a pirate and doing stage combat, playing bridge, etc. And the reason I chose those things? HAH! I used laugh in the face of reason or better yet, I simply ignored it. It’s time to rediscover that in the interest of active experience, connection, and engagement.