Caffeine is an interesting thing, especially when coupled with the internet–or, more specifically, when coupled with a modern web browser’s ability to hold fifteen or twenty tabs open.
After a short caffeine hiatus last week, I started drinking caffeine again this week. Not for any particular reason, but because as I was biking to work–perhaps because of the cold weather?–a large latte sounded really nice. I had one yesterday morning. I had another one this morning. Because I’d been doing a lot of meditation, my head has been very clear. I say this simply to point out that when one’s head is actually clear, changes in mental weather are far more noticeable.
Today at around 10:00 I caught myself bouncing between various open tabs on my browser: how to make DIY diffusers for recording studios; Facebook; REST in Practice on Safari Books; Facebook; Google Mail; Spring Data; Spring MVC framework; Economist; BBC News; Facebook; GMAIL; etc…
I realized that I had been doing this for some time, and that I was getting absolutely nothing done. To combat this, I printed out some reading material and decided to go outside to read. For the record, what I printed out was the first four chapters of “REST in Practice,” a canonical tome on REpresentational State Transfer, which is essentially the philosophy behind the whole URL scheme that makes the internet work (this turns out to be far more interesting than it at first might appear).
When I sat down to read, I didn’t finish the first sentence before my mind began to skip. Because I didn’t have browser tabs to skim through, my brain hopped rapidly between recent memories, plans for after work, day-dreaming imagined dialogs with people passing by, various ideas, this blog post, etc…
I was, I noticed, utterly incapable of reading. I couldn’t make it through more than a sentence or two before my mind shot off in some random direction.
There was a very real and somewhat viscerally pleasurable buzzing and compulsive quality to my mental weather; something about the sensation of the jump itself, the little shot of excitement it produced, and riding this wave of little mental yelps.
This isn’t exactly news. Modern life + caffeine = ADD. It was interesting to so clearly observe it in my own brain.
The tangent that occurred to me that derailed my studies of “REST in Practice” enough to make me leave my table outside and march upstairs to begin writing this entry was: why is it we so enjoy throwing our being into things?
To explain: part of what is engaging about these compulsive, skipping thoughts is that we lose ourselves in them. Maybe it’s brief, but there is always a moment of deep dissolution of time and ego. Try as we might to concentrate on something in particular, say my book, a spark appears, and BAM!!!, I am lost in a side-thought before I even realize it. It’s like the way, as we’re falling asleep, dream-logic (or un-logic) starts to fold our reality into a nightly vision.
Video games and TV are another example of this. People clearly LOVE to immerse themselves into these experiences. “Escape” is the term that’s often used. A momentary dissolution of the self into an artificial, representational reality.
Why is this experience so compelling? Why is it so compulsive? Why is it so hard to stop? Is it compulsive because of the way it ‘folds’ our reality? Or does it fold our reality because it’s compulsive?
There is, of course, the hindu idea of maya. The illusion that is life. The idea that what we experience is not reality, but a lesser refraction of reality. There is also the Platonic cave.
I wonder if our quickness to submerge our consciousness, our utterly compulsive need to ‘become’ the object of our attention, stems from the simple truth that reality itself is a representation that we have thrown ourselves in; but we often forget this, at least consciously, because we have done it so completely and it is so utterly engrossing; yet on a subconscious level we feel the maya, the illusion; and so perhaps somehow this leads us to the states behavior. Or maybe, more likely, there is some fundamental nature to consciousness that led to reality in the first place, and we are merely observing and experiencing this phenomena, both as life lived in illusion, and as coffee-infused-multi-tabbed procrastination.
Somehow I still feel like I haven’t reached the heart of my question–and yes, this blog post is really attempting to state a question, not an answer.
There are representations that are presented to us: reality, TV, video games, photos, magazines, etc…
There are representations that we present to ourselves: day dreams, dreams, thoughts, doubts, fears, etc…
But then what are books? The words are presented to us, but we have to imagine them. And thinking this way, can we really say that something like TV is any more or less presented to us than books? Sure, it’s imagery and sound is more concrete, but such things must still be interpreted. I suppose the difference is in the level of abstraction of the medium. Books leave us to fill in the concrete nature with our imagination; TV does not.
I dunno. I can’t quite get it.