One reason that many young people today postpone settling down in marriage and in a solid profession or job is that they feel a need to “experience the world”. This need has existed in previous generations, but today it has a different flavor. Nowadays, many young people develop their adult life in such a way that they are always in an “experience the world” mode and never feel comfortable settling down. They are mentally dreaming of trying to escape their marriage and work commitments. For some of these young people, the need to “experience the world” before settling down involves a lot of travel, particularly foreign travel. Sometimes these young people are forced to mix opportunities for the primary experience of travel with more practical considerations. This leads to study abroad or teaching abroad or postings overseas in conventional desk jobs. For other young people, the need to “experience the world” involves working with their hands, whether farm work, construction work or craft work, but definitely not work that is mediated by a lot of cognitive thinking.
The point is that young people today see settling down as a situation that closes off the opportunities for primary experience, opportunities of which they never had too many while growing up in modern technological society. Particularly given the fact that so many jobs today require long hours in the mediated experience of computers or complex industrial machines, it is no wonder that young people feel that they will have to start fasting, as it were, when it comes to immediate primary experience when they decide to settle down and get married. Certainly, settling down does not allow for enough primary experience for these young people to feel fully alive.
So what is it that young people do or don’t experience in their lives today that makes them want to “experience the world” so much. Computers and machines do not provide the organic friction necessary to act as a foundation for primary experience. The mediated experience created by computers and machines is an attenuated experience. The precise frictionless movements of computers and some machines and the static-creating friction-filled movements of many industrial machines are really more the stuff of isolated events which people can’t really commune with and connect with deeply. The computers and machines are free-floating figures forming shallow-bonded contingent connections of all kinds in a vacuum with each other and then disconnecting. And although computers and robots do create opportunities for mirroring and modeling for people, these bonds are all formed in one direction – from person to machine - and therefore are deficient shallow bonds. The computers and robots do not really care about people. Machines, computers, and robots do not create deep-bonding organic blendable continual stimuli. All the data in the world from computer screens can’t compensate for the lack of organic blendable continual stimuli. These latter stimuli are the foundation for organic imprints. Without the processes of making, receiving and preserving organic imprints, a person cannot feel fully alive. The machinations on a computer are just so many isolated events that as processes don’t deeply engage the user in a communing way. Because of the attenuated bonding with these processes, there is no real meaning generated by them either.
Experiencing computer processes is the complete opposite of experiencing the primary experiences that are the foundation of experiencing the world. More and more young people are starved for these primary experiences. As children today, rather than spend summer time outdoors and playing with their friends, they withdraw into their rooms to play video games, watch television or surf the Internet. At best, their communications with other children are done over smartphones. These are crucial years, and the children never learn how to engage with and bond properly with other children, and to make, preserve and receive organic imprints while connecting to them. Not learning how to properly absorb these imprints, as they grow up, they feel a perpetual lack of primary experience, no matter how hard they try to “experience the world”. They can’t properly absorb the primary experiences in which they may become immersed.
So as young adults they go on trying to have a variety of shifting primary experiences, when they can find such experiences, in order to pull themselves out of their numbness. They keep trying to absorb such experiences and never fully succeed, so they never really feel ready to settle down. If they make a commitment in marriage, it can become an uneasy commitment that frequently doesn’t last. The person feels he has to break out of the relationship again and “experience the world” again.
As a result of modern technology, the whole notion of human primary experience is playing a smaller and smaller role in our lives. Without organic blendable continual stimuli, we cannot connect with other phenomena through experience. Rather, we experience the movements and processes of other phenomena as standing apart from us in a vacuum as isolated defined discrete events. To the extent that our main interactions with the world come through consumer technology, we become increasingly configured to only be stimulated by defined discrete stimuli, so even when organic blendable continual stimuli present themselves, we are unable to absorb them.
And to the extent that we are only able to connect to phenomena by processing their movements as events, we become robots. The pleasure from kicks is the pleasure from movements and processes so extremely defined that phenomena grate against one another and sensorily explode in potentially damaging ways to our mind. The metallic vibrations of loud rock music, the rapid flashes of strobe lights, the loud engine acceleration of motorcycles and the racing of them on streets. And yet this is what pulls us out of the base numbness we experience, now that we no longer are capable of absorbing organic blendable continual stimuli very well.
With so many of our actions defined by our interactions with machines and computers, our movements become overly defined and focused. They become like secular rituals.
Many people in modern technological society are moving away from traditional religion, because so much of their secular life is so ritualized, and religious ritual no longer offers a sense of special transcendence. Religious ritual consists of a series of events, and people are crying for the opportunities for meaningful connected experience, even though when the opportunities present themselves, they are usually incapable of absorbing it well.
This notion of the gradual transformation of human life situations from warm bonding experiences to cool remote events is perhaps a difficult one to grasp. It deals with life situations that we take for granted and with the flow of life activities in which we move. But without a flow of organic life experiences from early in our lives, we lose the capacity to make, preserve and receive organic imprints, and we lose that which makes us organic mammals.
We are so focused, in defining our life goals, on focused figure things like money, a nice car, a good home and on slightly less focused figure phenomena like a good marriage and a rewarding job. Seldom would we think of aspiring to something as nebulous as a good flow of organic primary experience in a living environment that makes such primary experience possible, although this has been a non-vocalized aspiration of members of traditional societies. The young people today who have a desperate ongoing craving to “experience the world” and who have difficulty settling down in a long-term job and a long-term marriage are telling us something. To them, settling down means separating themselves from the possibility of taking advantage of those few diluted flows of primary experience available today, flows which they have difficulty properly absorbing anyway. And when young people try to settle down today, they feel boxed in, forced into fulfilling what they experience as robotic obligations. So they leave their jobs and divorce their spouses. Or they stay in their jobs and stay with their spouses and are not mentally present for either one. And either in reality or in their minds, they attain a state of freedom again. Those that make the break in real life are left not so much in an ongoing flow of rich vibrant organic experience, which isn’t there for most people in today’s world, but in a highly diluted attenuated flow that is filled with vacuum experiences of numbing loneliness and abrasive experiences of disjunctive fragment situations that don’t fit together. There is no unity and cohesion in life today the way that there is in more traditional cultures. To paraphrase the title of one of my previous articles: life has become a fragmented and shallow cartoon.
But by being aware of this situation, we can start to chip away at it in small ways. We have to retrain ourselves to be able to properly absorb primary experience again. By doing that, perhaps we won’t feel such a need to run away from the commitments that our society as a whole needs to maintain in its members in order to properly survive.
© 2014 Laurence Mesirow