Are you familiar with the idea of the earworm? Here, let me see if this helps: Juuusst sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip…
No? Maybe you’re too young. How about: Because I’m Happpeeeeee…Clap along if you feel like a room with out a roof…
If you managed to get past both of those without having the respective songs stuck in your head, congratulations! I could have picked worse examples, but both represent a particular kind of meme – idea or block of information that is so persuasive as to be invasive, occupying our brains often to the exclusion of other thoughts. In the best cases these are ideas that have a positive effect – but not always.
Every product of technology takes up space in the mind, and requires some investment of attention that could have been used for some other purpose.
Therefore it is vital to make sure that memes are truly symbiotic—that they contribute to our well-being, rather than become parasitic…
Excerpt From: “The Evolving Self: Psychology for the Third Millennium, A” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi via Scribd
Professor Csikszentmihalyi goes on to relate the tale told in St. Exupery’s book Night Flight. You may be more familiar with his other book, The Little Prince, and like that one, Night Flight is also about a pilot in distress. Flying a rickety single-engine biplane through mountains, trying to get through stormy mountains in the early days of aviation, the story is quite the edge-of-the-seat page turner: the pilot is, of course, terrified but brave, and his friend/boss on the ground, who can’t communicate in those days before reliable radios, is also worried.
The catch, Professor Csikszentmihalyi points out, is that while they are both frightened and worried, they are more worried about the possible loss of the mail and the airplane than of the pilot’s life. The memes of the airplane and of quicker communication had somehow become more valuable than a human being.
What the story suggests is that as soon as the airplane became useful so much psychic energy began to be invested into it that mere individuals ceased to have the power to resist its claims…how much of life is spent in buying, servicing, using, and thinking about these objects? At what point do we contribute more to their existence than they do to ours?
What kind of memes do we have like that in our lives? The cel phone is the obvious one; it’s funny how a generation of people who turned their noses up at the old Tamagotchi digital pets will get positively frantic hunting for an outlet at an airport lest their digital companion “die”. I’m no different; it was amazing how freeing it was when I invested in a large-capacity battery and suddenly was no longer part of the hunt. This idea of “psychic energy” taken by digital technology is part of why I decided not to get the Apple Watch, instead opting for the less-capable Pebble. I know, that’s not very impressive compared to a lot of minimalists – heck, there’s a trend among the uber-successful to carry only “dumb phones” so as not to be distracted from their Very Important Work. From Entrepreneur Magazine: “…an old “dumb phone” can actually serve as a status symbol. It signals to associates that you can’t be bothered to check email every 10 minutes.”
Why not signal that to yourself instead? Or, at the very least, take a look around your environment, and see what things you are putting a lot of energy into. Are they giving back in proportion to what they take? Or are you struggling with updates, paywalls, interruptions, and more, just to keep that particular technological meme “alive”?
What kind of energy can you reclaim from the parasites of technology? What could you do with that energy? It kind of boggles the mind, when you think about it – but the Gravy Hose is specifically designed to keep you from doing that. In the 21st century, memes are smart; they know how to survive, whether we do or not. These digital remoras try and convince us that we are sharks, and if we don’t keep moving through the sea of information, we might die!
The reality is that if we stop, at least for a while, and take a look around…we might actually remember that we are alive. We might move with intent towards our own purposes, rather than going where the current leads us.
And the digital remoras? They can go suck it.