Are You Not Entertained?

This can be a Mindf*ck Month-to-month e-newsletter from July 18, 2022. Each month, I ship out large concepts I’ve been chewing on within the hopes that it makes you much less of a shitty particular person.

Let’s dive proper in.

In David Foster Wallace’s traditional novel, Infinite Jest, there’s a film that’s so entertaining that anybody who views even a small portion of it’s going to surrender all want to do the rest in life with a purpose to preserve watching. All through the guide, characters who see it surrender household, buddies, careers, even consuming and sleeping, simply to proceed watching the movie. 

The overarching theme of Infinite Jest is that it’s doable, each as a person and as a society, to be too entertained. And far of the guide’s 1000+ pages are concerning the absurdity of such a society. Wallace wrote Infinite Jest within the early Nineties, a time when televisions have been simply beginning to get dozens of channels, information was being broadcast 24 hours per day, video video games have been taking on the minds of younger youngsters, and blockbuster motion pictures have been incomes unprecedented quantities of money on the field workplace every summer time. 

On the time, Wallace had simply gone by way of a restoration program for alcohol and drug abuse. But, regardless of getting clear for the primary time in his grownup life, he seen one thing unusual: he couldn’t cease watching tv. 

Wallace appeared to know that as media multiplies, so does competitors for consideration. And as competitors for our consideration multiplies, content material is now not optimized for magnificence or artwork and even enjoyment—however relatively for its addictive qualities. When there are two TV channels, the channel doesn’t actually have to fret about you clicking away, they only make the perfect present they will. However when there are 200 channels, out of the blue that channel should do the whole lot it could possibly to maintain you watching so long as doable. Wallace noticed this downside coming a long time upfront, and together with his private understanding of dependancy based mostly on his restoration expertise, he appeared to understand the addict tradition we’d all quickly be part of. 

At the moment, we recurrently mistake this addictive media for leisure. There’s some psychological operate deep in our brains that tells us, “Properly, I simply spent six hours watching this present, I need to prefer it quite a bit.” When, no, its script is definitely a mediocre piece of sizzling trash and also you’re being manipulated by cliffhangers and dangerous writing for hours on finish to maintain watching. The identical means you get hijacked into scrolling by way of social media far more than you’d truly wish to, your mind will get hijacked to look at “only one extra episode” to search out out if so-and-so actually died or not. 

In social media, this “it’s addictive, however I additionally kinda don’t prefer it” phenomenon has been acknowledged and mentioned to loss of life. However in different areas of media and leisure, we haven’t caught on but. 

Streaming providers and Hollywood are the plain culprits right here. What number of extra mediocre Marvel Universe motion pictures do we have to show this level? What number of extra dangerous Star Wars spin-offs? What number of dangerous Netflix exhibits with each episode ending in a cliffhanger? Everybody complains about how Hollywood doesn’t have any new concepts anymore. Properly, there’s a motive nothing new is getting made: endlessly including content material to the identical well-worn storylines retains individuals hooked. Consistently enjoying to individuals’s sense of nostalgia and remixing traditional genres is a risk-free means of guaranteeing viewership. 

Music is in an analogous place. For some time now, market analysis on music streaming providers has discovered that folks spend extra time listening to outdated music as an alternative of latest music and the pattern on that is within the flawed course. Music lovers are voting with their mouse buttons and people mouse buttons are going again in time, not ahead. 

Veteran music producer Rick Beato has made quite a few movies recently speaking about how common music the previous few years has gotten simplified to the purpose the place it’s one or two chords and a single melody, repeated time and again for 2 or three minutes. No refrain. No bridge. No variation. No build-up or launch. Simply an countless hodgepodge of catchy sounds repeated, one after one other. 

A part of it’s because the economics of music streaming is such that artists have incentive to not create the perfect songs or albums doable, however relatively to create as many small, easy songs that forestall you from clicking away as doable. It’s created an inventive atmosphere the place it’s higher to have 200 first rate, listenable songs relatively than 20 good songs. 

An analogous downside plagues YouTube, the place the most important creators rack up hundreds of thousands of views doing inane issues like opening a thousand Amazon bins or giving freely automobiles to their buddies, over and again and again. On the one hand, it’s not that attention-grabbing. On the opposite, you end up mindlessly clicking on the following video, and the following, and the following, and the following. 

When the whole lot is measured by way of engagement, content material shall be optimized for addictiveness. Not leisure or inventive advantage. Not mental substance or creativity. Pure, plain addictiveness. Which means we, the shoppers, get the next amount of extra predictable, much less modern, much less attention-grabbing artwork in our lives. 

Within the realm of artwork and music and movie and tv, that is actually annoying and irritating. It requires every of us to sift longer and more durable to search out one thing new and nice. However the place this optimization for addictiveness will get harmful is one other a part of tradition that I need to discuss… *takes a deep breath* …politics. 

I’ve written earlier than about how most individuals in america agree about most issues, but in some way our political events and authorities frequently discover methods to do issues most individuals don’t like. Many pundits have attributed this inconsistency between the general public’s needs and the federal government’s actions with theories concerning the main system or entrenched particular pursuits or polarizing social media. 

However what about this? Politicians — like Hollywood executives, pop stars, and YouTube creators — are incentivized to generate extra engagement. Not nice outcomes. Simply extra engagement, on a regular basis. Due to this fact, their actions should not optimized to supply good coverage or widespread sense payments or a shrewd compromise, however as an alternative to seize and maintain our consideration so long as humanly doable. 

David Foster Wallace noticed this coming too. The president of america in Infinite Jest is a former pop singer who obsesses over his tv scores, thinks coverage discussions are too boring and considers struggle with Canada based mostly on how good his photograph ops can be in navy camo fatigues. Within the guide, terrorist teams run rampant, because the battlefield shouldn’t be for territory or sources, however for eyeballs and headlines. 

Finally, no person can handle our consideration however ourselves. We will get mad at Netflix or Spotify or the Senate. However finally, these methods are free reflections of our personal consideration habits shining again at us. Change our consideration, change the methods. There’s an outdated saying that folks “vote with their toes.” Properly, immediately it’s worthwhile to vote together with your eyeballs and mouse clicks. Don’t watch the following episode of that poorly written piece of rubbish that retains teasing you with characters nearly dying. Don’t take heed to the following half-assed album with 27 totally different two-minute tracks. Don’t click on on clickbait. Don’t mindlessly scroll by way of TikTok and YouTube, rewarding individuals for attention-grabbing stunts. And don’t watch or reply to politicians and pundits who attempt to blather on and on about pet points however by no means truly get something carried out. 

Within the chaotic, entertaining mess of Infinite Jest, there may be the story of Don Gately, a recovered alcoholic who would actually relatively die than relapse into his substance abuse. After I first learn the guide years in the past, Gately’s storyline appeared misplaced. Amid all this futuristic mayhem of brief consideration spans and insanely addictive leisure and neurotic youngsters, Gately’s narrative appeared like an oddly typical story of private conquer one’s demons and a capability to sacrifice oneself for others. 

What I understand now could be that Wallace wrote the character of Don Gately for example of what we might all have to aspire to change into: recovered addicts. Individuals who can minimize themselves off chilly turkey, who can flip off the drug. Individuals who can handle their very own consideration and never fall sufferer to countless streams of senseless engagement. Individuals who can step above the fray of political dependancy and demand substance over bluster. And never only for our personal sake. For everybody else’s as nicely. 

Till subsequent month, 


P.S. If you wish to get higher at resisting addictive behaviors I’ve programs on Emotional Mastery and Resilience in The Refined Artwork College. I additionally cowl different matters like creating fulfilling relationships, discovering which means and objective in your life, emotional well being, lastly getting your shit collectively, and extra. Test it out.

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