Recreation refers to those activities that we do for enjoyment and that don’t relate to making a living. Ideally, recreation helps us to relax or helps us to express strong passionate enthusiastic feelings. Either way, recreation should be pleasurable, something that brings us contentment and/or joy.
But in modern technological society the shape of recreating has evolved and changed. As people increasingly sink into an experiential vacuum and the numbness it brings with it, there is an increasingly desperate need that appears to accelerate the will to do things in order to feel alive. In the past, I have called this conative acceleration, and it basically means that recreation, in order to help people overcome numbness in today’s world, has to become more focused and goal-oriented like work. Like traditional recreation, it involves activities that a person enjoys doing that a person is interested in. But to the extent that these activities become intertwined with the notion of survival, there develops almost a desperate quality to them.
So recreation gradually loses its flowing blendable continual elements and starts to develop the defined discrete focused qualities of work. The more that it loses its flowing organic qualities, the more that it seems like activities that are done apart from the person. They become activities that do not flow as an extension of a person’s core sense of self. Granted there are people who really enjoy their work activity, but even they must adhere to certain formal defined discrete criteria, in order to do it right. And these criteria create the kind of stress, the kind of tension that are more typical of work activities.
And as recreation blurs into work activities, the threat of sinking into conative anesthesia (the numbing of the will) causes people to react by pushing work – in particular, human work - into robotic-flavored work activities. This way, people can generate abrasive friction in order to pull out of their technology-based numbness and thus feel more alive. With robot-like work, everything has to be neat and crisp and done just so. Everything has to be done to the perfection of work from a robotic machine. Meanwhile controllable angular movements and thought are the substance of these more robotic work activities. Stress and tension permeate the robot-flavored work that modern technological humans do and help to keep people out of numbness.
The expectation for robotic perfection is something that is not only felt within the worker, but by employers, partners, clients and customers as well. One mistake can lead to a worker being treated like a machine. Like a machine that is going through planned obsolescence and has to be fired or demoted. In a vacuum, a person is on his own. A machine, a robot does not receive meaningful community support. If a robot makes a big mistake, and if it can’t be fixed, the robot can get discarded. If a human worker makes a big mistake and can’t correct himself, he gets tossed as well.
There is one other kind of activity response to the experiential vacuum in which modern technological society is embedded. And that is purposely numbing the will in such a way that one doesn’t feel such a strong need to break out of the enveloping numbness in the external world. This response of numbness to numbness is manifest in meditation and yoga, both of which in different ways get a person into a selfless unconscious state. A strong sense of self is that which wants to break out of numbness, so if a person can use numbing activities to calm the self down, the pressure to break out of the enveloping numbness is alleviated. Meditation and yoga require effort, but if a person wants to take a short cut to controlled numbness, he can always resort to pot. Marijuana smooths off the edges of everything including oneself. Then again, a person can use hallucinogenic drugs like LSD or peyote or psilocybin or ayahuasca, all of which create alternative vacuumized organic worlds in a person’s mind. As in a dream, one’s alternative activities are lived out in the mind. They are definitely not solid work activities, and one can say they are a cross between recreational activities and spiritual activities. Recreation and spirituality blur together here. And in the process, it is as if one is becoming a massless avatar of oneself.
So basically in response to the enveloping numbness of the experiential vacuum in modern technological society, people move in two directions. One direction has them taking the posture of conative acceleration and blurring into becoming like a robot. The other direction has them taking on the posture of conative anesthesia and blurring into becoming like an avatar. In both cases, they move away from an organic coherent sense of self that is crucial to maintaining their humanity. And they move away from their capacity to make, receive and preserve meaningful organic imprints. And from their capacity to live vibrant joyous lives. And from their capacity to have a meaningful life narrative. And from their capacity to prepare for death with a personal surrogate immortality.
We started this article with a discussion about recreation and then moved on to a discussion of other kinds of life activities. The distortions created by modern technology are such that if we can’t recreate properly, we can’t work properly and we can’t simply be properly. In the long run, all of our life activities are interrelated as they should be. They are all a part of the flowing blendable continual stream of human life.© 2020 Laurence Mesirow