This semester brings a rather peculiar situation for me: I have only three days of very intense attendance and a four-day “weekend”. At the same time, I’m doing more things than ever before. Even though I was imagining myself hiking, writing or spending a day at the library on those days (and yes, I do have to do course work as well, but that can be done whenever I want), I found myself just watching stuff all day for the first day because the three days before were so stressful that I had nothing left within me to be active. Basically, I was being entertained all day. True pleasure or relaxation would have been a different story.
We happen to live in a strange time, where consumption is meant to soothe all our sores. Had a hard day at work? Why not order take-out, treat yourself. Waking up and already tired on a Saturday? Stream your favorite shows for hours on end while snacking ferociously. Unsatisfied with just that? Get some social time in by going out (preferably in a new outfit) and don’t think about the hangover on the next day. To keep up this consumption, however, we work longer hours and try to find a “side hustle” to hail the God of productivity (I’ve touched on this in a previous post. Productivity alone seems to suffice now, no matter if it actually makes sense), maybe even producing the very things that others distract themselves with.
All of these things are different modes of consumption. They are shallow entertainment, not pleasure. For actual pleasure, we would have to be fully present, which is made significantly harder by being hungover, being preoccupied with finding a new look or merely consuming what other minds have created so we don’t have to think. The tricky part is, all of these activities might also be part of true pleasure. We might get food which we savor every bite of without distractions. We might watch a movie by/with one of our favorite artists and admire their creativity. Similarly, going out may mean a genuine connection with out friends and enjoyment of dancing. The difference is the purpose and presence we bring to these activities. One kind can be fulfilling while the other drains us.
Social media and streaming platforms are addictive for a reason. A lot of money can be made from them and the more you click/watch, the more you’re integrated into another economic cycle of production and consumption. While this is not inherently bad, I firmly believe that humans can do more than that and that we need to be creative and undistracted in order to be true to this other part of us. The problem is just that the alternatives are so convenient. It’s much easier to open the laptop than to pick up a pen/paintbrush/hammer/camera/instrument (whatever your creative expression may be). Or to not go for that hike when the weather’s not perfect and instead go to a pub until the early morning (even if you don’t connect with anyone there) and then sleep/cure your head inside your apartment the entire next day.
We should all be getting a lot of pleasure out of our lives. Entertainment doesn’t just provide a less stimulating alternative, it actually hinders us from going for what we know will bring us joy in the long run for the sake of unbroken consumption.