There is a story by Ray Bradbury called “Almost the End of the World” and it’s one of my favorites for two reasons. The first is that it ends in the line “Chicago, Pearl of the Orient, here I come.” The second is that the posited reason for the world “ending” was the end of television transmission. Or, given the mechanism and updating, internet too.
No, neither of those would be a good thing, but it amused me A LOT because of what he implied: that if you removed TV and by extension internet, people would have time for ALL sorts of other things that no one does anymore.
He’s right and wrong, of course. I grew up in a world without tv or internet, and I don’t remember — as in the story — people taking to cleaning EVERYTHING or painting everything that would stand still long enough.
Oh, sure a lot more things got done. Did I mention that for Easter women would pick flowers, sort them by color and make elaborate “tapestries” down the main street of the village?
But what Ray Bradbury missed is that in the days before electronic entertainment, there was also a lot more to do. Because we were missing a lot of other technology that makes our life MUCH easier. So, you know, my mom and grandmother, when I was little, ironed clothes, including dad’s white work shirts using coal-filled irons, and home mixed startch. Sure they didn’t spend mindless time in front of the TV, but they also didn’t have much time to spend in front of the TV.
Also, assuming people would do something constructive even with the time they did have is kind of giving humans too much credit. I think there is something in our brain that needs x time mindless entertainment per such and such time of work.
Now, mindless entertainment varies, of course. Today you can spend a lazy afternoon reading crazy stuff on the net. In my childhood people would spend lazy afternoons sitting on the stoop watching neighbors walk by. And before you say that this was more sociable or whatever, uh… A lot of the watching was like browsing facebook. “So and so is wearing a funny hat. He’s a poopy head.” “Oh, look, those two changed their relationship status” etc. It was just slower, more boring, and more personal because your neighbors knew you were watching ALL the time.
My mindless entertainment was often reading my cousins magazines or even my brother’s school books. Sure, I sometimes — inadvertently — learned something, but so do I on the net, where the type of links I tend to follow is something geeky and often historical stuff. Look, my mindless entertainment is just crazier than most people’s.
All of which brings us to — in my case, I know when I need brainless entertainment. It’s usually when I’m too sick/out of it to do something that requires more thought, like reading a book I’ve never read before or even writing.
The cycle goes something like this: Get very ill. Get bored while ill. Still be unable to do anything productive. Spend time reading FB or following crazy cryptozoology links. Get habituated so that even when I feel better, I’m addicted to mindless. Fight like crazy to stop the addiction. Write. Read. Get sick.
Yeah, I’m now on the part of the cycle where I’m fighting like crazy, so you might see less of me in comments and on FB. More importantly, I’m trying to manage my health to at least extend the “well part” of the cycle. And there are improvements, but they’re alas gradual.
No part of this involves my washing public structures and/or painting park benches. That might be a loss for everyone concerned. But I posit that if all electronic entertainment failed tomorrow, we would just find other, mindless things to do.
Right now, though, I need to leave the mindless behind and go write. Because if I don’t? It’s the end of the world.