The Trap that is Instant Gratification

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It is more prevalent today than ever before.  Enabled by the internet, smart phones, social media, and all sorts of other technologies that connect people with information, experiences, and entertainment at a faster and faster rate, our culture has come more and more to expect, and seek out what is commonly referred to as “instant gratification”.

Instant Gratification is defined as the desire for, or expectation of, some sort of result with minimal to no wait.  It can easily be summed up as having an “I WANT IT NOW” attitude.  A good example of this is the expectation that a web page be displayed on a computer screen or tablet pretty much as soon as one finishes typing in the web address.  In fact, some smart phones have taken this concept one step further, trying to anticipate where users are trying to go, or what application they are likely to want to use before they even take the time to type something in.

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Society’s move toward instant gratification did not begin with the internet.  Several decades before most people gained access to the net, fast food and television were already directing people towards choices that produce quicker results.  But, changes over the past quarter century have definitely accelerated the move in that direction.

In the early 1990s, being a demanding and highly impatient person was often still considered a negative trait.  Today, we are commended for making anything and everything operate quicker (unfortunately, sometimes at the expense of quality).  And, when people await what likes they will receive on an Instagram post within minutes of posting it, they are certainly acting within what is now the bounds of normal human behavior.

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This shift toward instant gratification has penetrated nearly all aspects of our society.  It has become so prevalent that, despite the fact that many people have become aware of the adverse effects of constantly searching for instant gratification, and have even begun to look for ways to rehabilitate their attention spans, it is a cultural shift that is nearly impossible to avoid.

For example, studies have shown that the average introduction to a song has reduced from 20 seconds to 5 seconds.  So, even those who have wholeheartedly chosen to reject the culture of instant gratification and seek out different experiences, are now listening to songs with shorter introductions, produced to cater to a culture that now demands to hear the hook sooner- otherwise, they will press the button and turn to the next song!  At work, regardless of one’s views on instant vs. delayed gratification, people are being increasingly asked to produce shorter presentations, shorter documents, and the types of products that produce rewards for users quicker.

It is for this reason this topic must be addressed.  Nobody exists in a vacuum.  Cultural trends find a way to impact nearly all people, including those who did not actively chose to participate.

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The incentives that drive people towards instant gratification are easy to understand.  A “reward” is received for little to no effort.  And, when humans perceive effort, time is often factored in.

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However, the unfortunate truth that many people are observing is that this new barrage of precieved great deals, with respect to effort vs. reward, have not necessary resulted in a better life.

The time has come to reconsider choices, especially those that pertain to choosing between endeavors that require more effort vs. less effort, or more time vs. less time.  While selecting the latter, instant gratification does often feel good at the moment, but the truth is…

It is Often the Less Healthy Decision

This it true for the mind, the body, and the spirit.  It is easier to go to a fast food restaurant, or heat up a hot pocket, than it is to plan out a healthy meal that provides balanced nutrition.  It is easier to get a mental “high” of sorts from drugs and alcohol than it is to feel rewarded from long strenuous exercise.

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And, unfortunately, it is easier to respond to a message on Facebook, or to SnapChat, than it is to have an actual conversation or experience with someone (which is what builds actual friendships).

The Happiness is More Brief

Due to certain aspects of how the human brain functions, the quicker one receives a “reward” (that being the good feeling one receives due to a specific event or occurrence), the shorter lived the positive feeling tends to be.  For example, there is a dichotomy with regards to people’s use and responses to any controlled substance, which has a direct impact on the brain.  One can smoke marijuana and be high almost instantly, but for modestly potent strains, the feeling will typically last less than an hour.  One can be high for several hours from a fat soluble edible of the same potency, but must wait 30-60 minutes before feeling the effect.

The same dichotomy exists for different drugs, and different potencies.  The quicker its impacts can be felt, the quicker the impacts recede.  A similar pattern can be seen with regards to the brain’s response to normal food and drink, as well as pleasure delivering experiences.  Think of sex with absolutely no foreplay, no build-up.

Even the Same Experiences are Less Satisfying

When the wait is shorter.  Look at how excited Cubs fans were, and still are, about having finally won a World Series.

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We Lose Patience

Over time, being the constant recipient of instant gratification can cause people to lose patience far more easily.  This will cause people to abandon pursuits of all kinds far more quickly.  In fact, in the United States, the rate of entrepreneurship is down over the past several decades, with a particularly steep decline that corresponds with the proliferation of social media and smart phones in the mid to late 2000s

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We Don’t Think Long Term

When the brain is consistently occupied with everything on short time frames, the capacity for long-term planning is diminished.  According to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. personal savings rate is nearly 50% lower than it was during the 1970s.  Saving money is one of the many long-term pursuits, along with building relationships of all kinds, health, and knowledge base development, that have a significant impact on life satisfaction.  All these pursuits appear to be diminished when one constantly pursues what is quick, easy, and short-term.

There are Some Unforeseen Negative Consequences

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Yeah, it is great that one can log onto their favorite social media site, and post something that either validates their opinions, helps diffuse their anger, or gives them a sense of moral superiority on something.  And, that is a quick reward.  But, what is it doing to friendships with those who happen not to feel that way.  From personal experience, it feels as if social media has done just as much to damage relationships as it has to enhance them.

And it is not just social media.  It is common for unforeseen adverse consequences to follow short-term thinking and communicating.  Companies that prioritize next quarter’s earnings over long-term planning may find themselves obsolete in a few years.  Communications in any form, even in person, can be taken the wrong way when not thought out, or expressed properly.  And, who hasn’t felt the 10 A.M. regret that results from having one too many drinks the night before, and/or waking up somewhere they do not recognize?

It Takes us Away From More Fulfilling Experiences

Yes, there is a place in the world for instant gratification.  The human experience is full of challenges, some of which require short-term thinking, short-term solutions and short-term rewards.  Most of the problems listed above are a result, not of one particular pursuit of instant gratification, but of people having become conditioned to primarily pursue instant gratification.

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Often times, the most fulfilling experiences are the ones that take time, effort, and planing.

Instant gratification is tool in our lives, the same way long-term planning is, the same way social interaction, meditation, and exercise are.  All have their purpose, and there are many purposes for which instant gratification serves.  The key is to recognizes that western society has become way to obsessed with receiving things with little to no effort or wait.  And to understand that instant gratification needs to be thought of as a tool, like medication, or the occasional ice cream binge to get over a bad situation, it should not be the default!

 

The 10 Things I Experienced When I Went a Month Without News:

This February I decided to conduct a little experiment, on myself. I wanted to know what I would experience, and how I would feel, if I stopped paying attention to the news altogether. Specifically, I wanted was a month off of paying attention to anything related to news, politics, and current events. What I experienced over the past 28 days partially matched my theory that ridding myself of some of the anxiety and other negative emotions associated with current events would make me happier. But, I also encountered some surprises along the way. The following list summarizes my experience in going 28 days without reading, listening to, or watching anything related to news.

  1. I had to break a habit

Just in order to successfully go 28 days without news consumption was a struggle. We are all creatures of habit. And, like many other people in 2017, I have roughly 10 web pages I routinely visit. I have also got in the habit of scrolling through social media feeds from time to time. To avoid news, I had to stay diligent and break these habits. I had to completely avoid visiting any web page related to news. And, on my phone, I had to purposely turn away from all the Top Stories and Trending Topics that just find their way of appearing on the screen.

I would say this was the hardest around one week into the experiment. I had not quite broken the habit of reflexively visiting certain web pages, and was beginning to feel disconnected a bit. I also struggled in some social situations with people who turned the television on to news channels. I had to purposely look away, go to another room, or put on headphones.   It helped me to explain to people that I had given up news for the month. This did not stop them from watching the news when I was there, or talking about the news, but at least it stopped them from feeling like I was being purposely anti-social.

  1. I freed up a lot of “mental energy”

I began to think of this exercise as kind of a cleanse diet for the mind.   For those not familiar, a cleanse diet is one where a person eats a radically different diet, often with extreme food restrictions, for a period of time, usually 3 day to 6 weeks. The goal of the cleanse diet is to wash away all of the toxins from one’s body.

It took about a week for my mind to feel “cleansed”. For the first few days of the month, the news that I had read throughout 2016 and the first month of 2017 was still on my mind. 2016 was kind of an exceptional year, and I think I ended up needing a week just to process everything that had happened.

Surely enough, when I stopped thinking about current events, how people are responding, arguing, etc., I started to notice an uptick in my mental energy. Every piece of information we consume and process requires mental energy. When something is both complicated and stress inducing, as politics and current events are, it can be potentially exhausting. When I stopped expending so much mental energy on news and politics, my mind became freed up to address other concerns.

  1. I rediscovered old passions

When I was younger, and there were no smart phones constantly triggering me to look at news stories, I spent my idle time (time with no specific activity) quite differently. As a lifelong weather enthusiast, who studied meteorology in college, I would look at weather patterns, weather models, and weather occurrences around the country. I also spent a significant amount of time reading books and materials related to humanity, human nature, personality, social interaction and the like.

Both these interests never went away, and both of these interests were in a way renewed with all of the time and mental energy freed up this month by not watching news. I am currently looking forward to a season of storm chasing (I attended an event called Chaser Con the 18th and 19th). And I am looking forward to writing more articles like this one!

  1. My mind went to a scary place

This is where I begin to wonder if political commentary in particular is just one gigantic distraction. About a week into my news free month, with my mental energy being returned to me, I actually had sort of a breakdown. I had a particularly rough day at work. I felt like multiple people were pulling me in a direction I did not want to go, regarding my career, and in some ways, my life.

Without news, political commentary, or anything similar to occupy my mind, I had no choice but to face my own disappointment with the current state of my career. This was something I had kind of been realizing all along, but prior to my news free month, my thoughts on this subject were on aspects of my job that were far more cosmetic. This breakdown brought me to a really dark realization regarding what I truly fear, that one day I will retire and die having never achieved my true potential. WOW!

  1. It was not a complete escape

Let’s just face it; in order to truly escape the news, one would have to actually hide under a rock or something. Just because I took on this experiment and decided to stop paying attention to the news does not mean anyone else’s behavior changed one bit (nor should I expect it to).

As previously mentioned, people around me still wanted to turn on the news, read it, and talk about it. I can recall at least two dozen instances throughout the month where someone brought up something regarding Donald Trump or something, and I had to politely say “I am taking the month off of news, sorry”. Most people would respond with some level of interest in the experiment. But, that would often be followed by some sort of return to whatever the person had originally desired to complain about.

So, I did hear about certain things through people around me. Some of it really sparked my interest, like the California Dam collapse. In retrospect, I probably could have kept up with that event and not had the results of this experiment turn out any differently.   But, I wanted to be sure that I stuck to my original intention, and not see other new stories.

  1. I actually became less tolerant of angry political conversation

This one kind of surprised me. Before the experiment, I was already losing my patience with the typical political conversation. By this I mean conversations that people start without appreciating the true complexity of the issues at hand. They often begin with an insult or two, or some sort of expression of outrage at some politician, or political idea. They continue through the conversation expecting everyone to agree, and will sometimes ask a question. But, they are not looking for a well-reasoned consideration of what is at hand. They don’t even want you to say more than a sentence. They want an echo.

My tolerance for this experience pretty much hit zero by the middle of the month. Maybe this would have happened even without the experiment. It is an easy experience to get tired of. Still, I expected the break from reading news, and particularly political commentary, to make it easier for me to tolerate these simplistic and mean spirited exchanges.   Unexpectedly, the opposite happened.

  1. I zeroed in on the true sources of waste

By late in the month, I realized that not all news is a waste of time. There is a benefit to knowing what is going on in the world, as well as in your community. But there are definitely things that I know, going forward, I do not need to expend mental energy on.

I am talking about shows where people just argue with one another. I am talking about articles such as Is Ohio Red for Good Now? (or Is Colorado Blue for Good Now?). I am talking about any show where someone purposely tries to take people’s statements out of context.

I also come out of this feeling like I do not need to keep up with every single development about certain things going on. There is a 24/7 news cycle now, with alerts, updates, and news feeds, designed to get information decimated to the public instantaneously. But, it doesn’t impact my life too much if I am a day or two behind. Unless it is an Amber Alert, a tornado warning, or some other kind of emergency, I can find out in a day or two, or a week, and not be the worst off for it.

  1. There was still a second round of temptation

It was about 20 days into the experiment, the point in which many says habits are broken or formed.  And, I probably had broken these habits. Maybe the day was boring, but I suddenly found myself wondering, again, what was going on. I found myself tempted to go back and visit one of the web pages I had just broken out of the habit of going to. Maybe this was the time when I actually began to feel as if there had been some sort of significant occurrence that I needed to know about.

  1. I have a new appreciation for being conscious of the mind’s intake

As a culture, we put a lot of thought into our body’s intake. What food are we eating? What diet should we try? When we adhere to a diet, or even just actively consider the contents of our food choices, we are being conscious of our body’s intake.

This experiment made me realize that it is probably just as important that we become conscious of our mind’s intake. When we look at click-bait, scroll through news feeds or our social media outlets, we are letting other people decide what information is going into our minds.

Some of it is okay. After all, most of us chose what to follow on these sites. However, some of it is purely mindless. In particular, I am thinking of the NewsStand app on my iPhone. Sure, they let me chose what to follow. But, the app also displays “Top Stories”, which is decided on by whatever controls that application.

On a more frequent basis, we should be consciously determining what we want to be thinking about. Luckily, there is this great site called Google. It lets you type in anything you want information about- whatever is on your mind, whatever sparks your curiosity, and get information, often great information, on the topic. People used to have to go to the Library for that. Now we can do that right after rolling out of bed. Let’s take advantage of it.

  1. I am tempted but I am not

To return to viewing the news regularly now that February is over. It feels like the inverse situation to going to the gym. Many of us feel lukewarm about going to the gym. We kind of drag ourselves there, or fight some kind of internal mental battle to muster up the motivation to work out. But, it is we usually feel better after going.

Right now, I am curious to see what I had missed. But, in a way, I know that something I see will upset me. Something will suck me in and result in me wasting time on a mindless slideshow such as 25 Celebrities Who Voted for Trump. And once again I will be needlessly anxious, and distracted from making the life changes I have begun to make as a result of shifting my focus this past month, from news feeds to the components of my life that truly need attention.

12 Things I Learned in 2016

 

  1. In blogs and articles, the text prior to the first item of a list often goes unread.

If the article is titled something along the lines of 14 reasons why…, or the top 20 …, people will often just skip right to item #1. So, from now on, when writing lists, I’m only going to include text before item #1 when it is absolutely necessary.

 

  1. Being yourself means being yourself even when it makes you uncomfortable.

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It’s easy to show off your true personality in situations where a positive reaction is expected. Anyone with even the slightest amount of self-confidence can point to situations where they went out there and decided to “be themselves”. But, there are also plenty of situations where being true to oneself can lead to vulnerability. This is why many people claim to be themselves, but often retreat behind their masks at the prospect of discomfort. One must be willing to face criticism, disapproval, and even loss of friendships, relationships, or jobs in order to honestly be staying true to themselves in all situations.

 

  1. Caring about others means caring about others even when there is no benefit.

 

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This is kind of obvious, but we often lose sight of this, especially in the adult world. A lot of relationships are formed out of some kind of mutual benefit. A good example of this is the show Arrested Development. In this show, every interaction between the characters, who are mostly family, involves some sort of tit-for-tat almost business like deal between the characters. There are even some less obvious situations, with people in our lives whose benefits (knowing the person that can invite you to the party, get you into the club, help you meet your next sexual encounter, etc.) are constantly in our subconscious. To truly care, we must distance ourselves from these considerations and consider any of these benefits as a gift rather than a prerequisite for our willingness to associate with another.

 

  1. People reflect their own reality.

To the people we encounter on a day-to-day basis- we are just bystanders in their reality. And, everything they do is a reflection of that reality in some way. If someone says something critical to another person, that statement is more of a reflection of him or her than the person they are criticizing.

 

  1. It is actually fun to be an island of calm.

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When everyone around you is freaked the fuck out.

 

  1. Your reality begins within.

Than it is reflected outwards. It is not the other way around as so many people falsely assume. Many people assume they must wait for something external; a new opportunity, a person just coming into their lives, or some sort of out of the blue event, in order to change something or progress to the next level. But, the first wave is always internal. The reality, what we think about, what we believe, and what we consider right is reflected outward once we truly believe it. When we alter our internal reality, over time, the reality around us will slowly begin to reflect what we already believe. Then, these events, opportunities and new people will emerge.

 

  1. All things of value require some time and effort.

IMG_6934.jpgSometimes it is your own effort; sometimes it is the effort of others. But, things don’t just fall into place. Doing nothing or sticking with stuff that is easy and comfortable will lead to little to no, or temporary, reward. Relying only on the effort of others will put you at the mercy of said people.

 

  1. Three days without physical activity can feel like death.

We were not meant to be nearly as sedentary as we are.

 

  1. Energy is one of the most important attributes in life.

The amount of energy, as well as the type of energy, that we both project and receive has major implications for our lives. It is no accident that in the book The Happiness Project, where author Gretchen Rubin decides to take on one initiative a month for twelve months to improve life satisfaction, her first initiative is to improve her energy levels. Without the energy, we can do the things we love and be the people we love being!

 

  1. Our humanity is under siege and must be protected

img_8051What I am talking about is what separates us from the robots; our individuality, things like our senses of humor, emotions of all kinds, and that general spirit that makes us our human selves. This is being subtly attacked on multiple fronts at this point in time. Many of us have jobs that focus solely on performing tasks using certain procedures, or worse, focus on things like schedules and hierarchy. Our pursuits of materialism and status reduce our sense of value to what we have and what we kind of labels we can show off. And, our increasing dependence on machines and technology for more and more components of our lives farther blur the line between humanity and machines as spoken words are replaced by text, social media, and computerized algorithms.

 

  1. You don’t have to be the center of attention to matter

IMG_8156.jpgImagine you are at a club. You are dancing, getting a little crazy. Maybe you’re “crunk”, or even on speed or molly. Likely, you are being ridiculous and have drawn the attention of a majority of the club’s patrons. Who is the most important person at that club at that time? It’s the DJ. It’s the guy (or girl) standing off to the side with headphones over their heads. That person has the power to wreck the night in a jiffy. There are a lot of situations like that in life, where the individual who has drawn the attention of others is kind of interchangeable while someone in the background is actually making everything happen.

 

  1. You better learn to enjoy the journey

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The Real Battle Between Humans and Machines

The topic has been covered countless times, in movies, literature, and science fiction in general.  The idea that sometime in the not too distant future, a battle will commence as robots, or some other form of machine turns against their creators (humans).  In nearly all the movies I can think of off the top of my head the situation is quite overt.  By this I mean that it is structural and obvious.  For example, in The Matrix, there is a back story explaining how the machines surpassed their masters in intelligence, rose up, and had been a war with the humans for a century.
Having seen, read, or listened to countless stories of this nature, it becomes harder to imagine machines taking over mankind in such a manner.  We as a species are well aware of this threat and are likely putting a lot of thought into how to safeguard against such a scenario.  This is actually addressed in the movie iRobot, where one of the robots is intentionally given a defect that saves humanity from such as fate.

To win a battle like this against a well-guarded opponent, one often resorts to different tactics; tactics that their opponent is not accustomed to seeing.  It worked for the ascendant United States of America in the Revolutionary War against the British, and ironically worked for the Viet Cong against the United States just under two centuries later.  In both cases, the victor’s opponents were more powerful, but caught off guard by unfamiliar tactics.

In that sense, the battle between humans and machines may indeed already be happening, on a different stage than we had envisioned, and with a different end game than we had previously pondered.


For most of human history warfare involved a dispute between two groups of people over territory and resources.  Typically, the result was for one tribe to beat another tribe, forcing them to either leave their land or become subject to rule by the other tribe.  This is the kind of warfare between humans and machines that is depicted in most of the science fiction materials published about the topic.

But war itself has fundamentally changed over the past century (not even).  Wars in the 21st Century are typically fought not with the conquering of a territory or a people in mind, but with the goal of spreading influence.  Many outside Nations engaged in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and other places not with the goal of annexing these lands, but with the goal of exporting some sort of set of values to that region.  The Americans, the British, French, Russians and any other country with involvement in these wars are simply looking to spread their influence.

This is where we, humanity, find ourselves with machines, the very machines we created.  While machines do not have conscious thoughts, they are both using tactics that many of us are unprepared for, and finding ways to influence us.


When I think about humanity, and what constitutes one’s humanity, I think about emotions, both negative and positive.  I think about individual quirks and the like.  In the movie Artificial Intelligence, the main character, a robot, confuses a crowd of robot killers by actually expressing human-like desires and emotions because this is not the way we are accustomed to thinking about robots.  In a simplified manner, to be dynamic, individual, feeling and specialized is to be human, and to conform, output predictably, and exist only to perform tasks is to be robotic.

It is no secret that the amount of time we spend in front of machines, computers, tablets, phones, etc. has increased significantly over the past two decades.  What we as a species have been trying to come to grips with is both why this is so and what the impacts are.  Recently, much has been written about technology addiction.  Neuroscientists have concluded that the way we use technology does indeed change the way our brains are structured.

These machines provide us with both entertainment and access to information.  It can even be reasonably argued that our smartphones and tablets help us engage in social activities through text messages, social networks, meetups and such.  However, they also provide us with something far more dangerous; comfort.

Let’s say a person is waiting for a bus, or waiting in line to order at a restaurant, and they are alone.  By turning to a phone or tablet, they avoid one of two situations that may make them uncomfortable; the possibility of making eye contact, or even striking up a conversation with a stranger, or boredom, which may lead to unpleasant thoughts.  All over the world, in situations like these, people are turning to their screens for protection, and are kept in their comfort zone.

When a person puts themselves out there, whether in a minor sense like striking up a conversation with a stranger, or in a more major sense like developing a product, starting a company, or determining a whole new way of life, they become vulnerable.  They open themselves up to criticism and rejection, both of which can be unpleasant.  Many people spend their entire lives avoiding such unpleasant feelings, and our machines, including televisions, computers, tablets and phones have become powerful enablers of such behavior.

Avoiding this vulnerability has impacts beyond just preventing us from achieving our desires.  It also disconnects us from our emotions- of all kinds.  Both make us more like robots.  Our emotions are repressed, leading to more robotic behavior.  And, being trapped in our comfort, not leaving uninspiring jobs and situations often leads to people performing tasks that are robotic in nature.  Through enabling comfort seeking and mental metamorphosis, machines are tactically spreading their influence over us, the same we try to do in wars today.

The one piece of good new in all this is, unlike in wars between nations, in this battle we all have a choice- individually.  Now that we are aware of how constant use of machines impacts us, each person, individually, can chose how to respond to it.  Sure, it may be a challenge to buck a trend we observe every day.  When several people take their phones out, it is hard for the rest of the group not to follow suit.  But, at least the option is there, to fight this battle, as it is, as described, a war for your mind.

Are We Living as True Adults?

“Wish we could turn back time. To the good dope days. When the Mama sang us to sleep when I was stressed out.” This is the main chorus to one of the most popular songs of the past year, which re-enforces a common stereotype many older Americans have about the “Millennial Generation”; they are slow to “grow up”. Statistics confirm that today’s young adults are more likely than the two previous generations to live at home. Across the West, adults in their 20s and 30s are delaying traditional “adult” things like marriage, purchasing a home, having children, and entering a stable career.

A good number of older adults have a fairly simplistic diagnosis of the problem. They see the generation of current young adults as a group of people whose attitudes are represented by the 21 Pilots song. They are entitled, and do not wish to take responsibility in the manner in which previous generations have. Ironically, this sentiment is most commonly expressed by members of the generation that raised our current “responsibility-shunning” young adults.

There are many factors that lead to differing attitudes among generations. Much has been written about how the forces of globalization and automation have changed the job market, leading to less emphasis on stability and more on constant learning. Much has also been written about how the internet, social media, and smart phones have led to different attitudes, amongst people who grew up with different technology, different ways of communicating to one another, etc.

The issue I personally have with the proposition of “growing up” is that what is being suggested to me does not feel like actual adulthood.

The way I understand the spectrum from childhood to adulthood, with adolescence representing some form of middle ground, is kind of a tradeoff. In childhood, as suggested by the 21 Pilots song, a parent, parents, or some form of parental figure takes care of you. They ensure everything is going to be okay, and when something bad happens to you, they are the ones ultimately responsible. However, in exchange, they end up having a significant amount of control over what you say and do. This is the aspect of the “good dope days” that the song fails to mention.

As one “grows up”, they take on more and more responsibility. For an “adult”, when a bad outcome occurs, whether it is due to one’s own actions, or due to a situation beyond one’s control, he/she is the one that bears the consequences, and must sometimes sacrifice to provide the necessities of life. The tradeoff, though, is two things. First of all, one that is truly considered “mature” is given the leeway to choose how to live their lives. This happens gradually in adolescence, as parents give their teens privileges such as removing curfews, or allowing them to travel farther from home without supervision. The second, and, in my view, equally important aspect of the tradeoff, is that mature people are taken much more seriously; when they present ideas, express opinions, and express outrage at injustice.

I have a clear idea of what it means to be an “adult”. Adults are the ones ultimately accountable for things that go wrong. Adults take care of themselves, and their own basic needs. There is no need to keep tabs on where an adult is at certain specific times or to make sure that said adult is or is not taking part in certain activities and behaviors. After all, the adult is supposed to understand the risks, rewards, and consequences of certain behaviors. And, if a poor decision is made, the adult is the one who suffers the consequences.

However, most versions of “adulthood” that I witness around me do not feel this way at all. The average “adult” in order to meet their end of the bargain, responsibility for providing their own (and sometimes their families) living, looks to obtain a stable job. Working a stable job, one must submit to some form of authority, usually one that considers themselves a boss of sorts.   And, while there are plenty of organizations that are “flat”, considering management just one of the many needs of the organization, there are plenty of bosses, and organizational hierarchies in general, that keep close watch on employees, taking a way much of the individual autonomy associated with “adulthood”.

Aside from bosses, many look to, and even try to impose on others other forms of authority, which can significantly reduce the positive impacts of the tradeoff. For some this takes the form of a spouse, a family, or some kind of a community group. This is actually the least offensive means in which people cede their individual sovereignty. At least these individuals are ones that are supposed to care about the individual they are exerting authority over. Far too many people also choose to, and through their actions force others to, designate some of their authority over their own lives to the government.

The problem is, in most of these cases, the alternate forms of paternalism do not even offer the protection of childhood. Most companies will still fire an employee if their performance slips, and will lay them off if market conditions sour. The government even goes as far as to impose their own negative consequences for those that perform poorly. In most cases, so-called “adults” are not even given the option to live in a state of perpetual adolescence, they are just given a shitty bargain.

Unlike 21 Pilots, I do not wish for a state of perpetual childhood. I wish for adulthood, true adulthood. I will gladly accept the responsibility that comes with adulthood, given that I also receive the respect, and individual autonomy associated with it. However, the tradeoff that often appears is being suggested to me, and to anyone else told to “grow up”, is one where the responsibility is taken, but sufficient individual autonomy and respect is not given in return. This is a tradeoff that I am not willing to accept!

When was the last time YOU decided?

Life at age 4 is a strangely beautiful thing. I do not remember the details of my own life at age 4, nor do I know the details regarding the life of any present day 4-year-old. It’s probably a lot of running around aimlessly, and asking questions; the proverbial “why”. As I observe more and more of my friends having children, and remember my own childhood, one distinction between life at that age, and life as an adult, or even as a teenage comes to mind. 4-year-olds, having yet to enter school, rarely spend any time sitting around wondering what they should be doing. From what I see, the average 4-year-old has some kind of box of toys they just simply dive into. Either that or they are running around the yard. The commonality is, though, these 4-year-olds are not looking to someone else’s guidance when determining what they should be doing or what they should be thinking about and such. There is something simply magical about it.

I think I was 7 or 8 years old the first time I approached one of my parents and simply stated “I’m bored”. Little did I know that this would become an all too familiar theme throughout my life. Boredom is a concept I am quite fascinated with, as I have a personality type that is particularly prone to boredom. But, what is boredom? There are several theories, some involving people being afraid of their own thoughts, some believing it’s a healthy manner in which our brains ensure they are using their full capacity, and yet others stating it’s a symptom of an individual lacking imagination or creativity.

The final theory is the one that is the most disturbing. It suggests, in the most blunt terms possible, that a person being bored is really a person being boring. But, how did that come to be? How would we have transitioned, each one of us, from our 4-year-old selves, to these people who, given spare time, cannot even think of what we would like to do, or what we would like to think about?

One quite disturbing possibility is inadvertent, well-intentioned conditioning. At age 5, most of us enter a world (school) where the way we use our time, what activities we take part in, what topics we fill our minds with, is suddenly determined by someone else. This is quite a significant change from the days where the only instruction we received would be the occasional behavioral correction from our parents. It is possible that, having now been relieved of the duty of determining our own activities, day after day, year after year, the skills of self-determination we developed as a child simply atrophy. So accustomed to having an external forcing determine what we should be doing, and what we should be thinking about, we lose the ability of self-determination.

I see this process manifesting in high school. With the exception of a few leaders, and a few loners, most people join in peer groups, and accept a great degree of outside control from others. It is common for one “leader” to determine the activities for the night, and some combination of trends, pop culture, social norms, and the “in crowd” to determine most else.

Our present day society offers adults plenty of opportunities to continue to avoid having to determine their own thoughts and activities. Jobs are very much still structured so that anyone that wants to can have their boss or supervisor determine all their tasks for them. In fact, as much as things are starting to change, the world is still harsh for those of us that do want to have some say in what kind of work we would like to be involved in.  That covers 40-60 hours of the week.  For all else, outside of work, there are plenty of opportunities to turn to social media, news feeds, television, and advice, both solicited and unsolicited, to determine where our hearts, minds, and energy should be focused.

That leads me to one question, for all adults out there. When was the last time you decided what you were to do with your time, an hour, a day, or even a week?  By this, I am not talking about looking at a list of options and making a choice.  I mean choosing something you want to be doing, or thinking about, with no other influence besides your thoughts, feelings, and inspiration, much the way a 4-year-old would.  And, when was the last time you acted on something, without worrying about what is considered appropriate, what others expect from you, or what “needs to be done”?  While there is a reality to life, and we all have responsibilities, I have a feeling that pretty much every adult today has at least enough wiggle room to do so every once in a while.

 

Do You Need a Job?

Our society places a lot of emphasis on jobs. Often times, when meeting new people, the first question one would ask is, “What do you do”? In the “adult world”, at least 90% of the time, the inquirer is referring to work, what your job is. Being without a job is nearly universally considered either a lesser state of being, or an issue that needs to be solved. Governments all over the world track unemployment statistics, lament when the number increases, and celebrate when the number declines. In popular culture, unemployed people are referenced as having some sort of issue, being less than ideal individuals to date, or having some sort of degenerate rebellious streak.

Today, as we enter a world where more and more tasks that once provided jobs for many are automated, I postulate the question, do you, or anyone else, really need a job? After all, jobs did not always exist, they developed as a means for labor division as civilization gradually advanced thousands of years ago. But, even nowadays, there are people who survive without a job. There are those who got lucky and inherited large sums of money, those that found other sources of income, such as starting their own business, or investing money really effectively, and even those who live off others for various reasons.

What is it that jobs provide for us that makes nearly all human beings feel as if they need them? Jobs provide, or have the potential to provide three main benefits. Most obviously, jobs provide income; money, which allows us to have the basic building blocks of life, the base of the hierarchy of needs food and shelter, but also allows us to live the lifestyles we desire. For many, this is the main reason for going to work. The other human desires jobs can provide are fulfillment and community. By fulfillment, I am referring to the innate aspect of human nature that makes all of us desire to use our time, energy, and talents to produce something meaning. And community is the need for social interactions.

Nearly all jobs provide people with the means, for which to live, which in the modern world mean pay rent or mortgage, and eat. However, the renegade entrepreneurs of the world, the outsiders that have found other income streams, and those that live off the grid honing primitive survival skills have shown us that a job is not the only manner in which to achieve this end. In fact, there are probably creative individuals right now coming up with completely different and interesting ways to generate whatever income, food, shelter, water, etc. they need to sustain human life.

As far as the other two human desires, fulfillment and community, unfortunately, in this world, a majority of “jobs”, and even many “careers” do not provide this. In the era of education inflation, unnecessary bureaucracy, and large corporations, more and more people find themselves with jobs that are simply not fulfilling. When not fulfilled at work, it is hard to find community there as well. Additionally, high turnover rates and increased use of technological resources for meetings and such make it yet more unlikely that one will find community at work.

A job that provides means, fulfillment, and community is still probably the most efficient manner for human beings to fulfill those three needs. However, it is not the only way. As more and more people find their careers not matching their expectations, and the work they do no longer necessary, it may just be time to think outside the box and consider other ways to get those three needs fulfilled.