Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Life Has Become A Perpetual Roller Coaster


            A few weeks ago, I went to a street fair in one of the suburbs north of Chicago.  The Chicago area has many wonderful street fairs during the summer, and they are something that is eagerly awaited by its inhabitants during the long cold snowy winters.  But as with many of the fairs, there was one aspect of the entertainment that I found annoying.  There was a rock band that was playing the music so loud, it was hurting my ears.  The musicians seemed to be quite comfortable with it.  It didn’t seem to matter that most of them would be deaf by the time they were in their thirties.   It is true that most of the audience seemed to tolerate the music volume.  Many of the members of the audience had wisely come prepared with ear plugs. For those who didn’t, they would be subject to the same damaging effects as the musicians.   In particular, it was the electric bass and the electric guitar that were coming out with extremely strong penetrating sounds.

            The electric guitar and electric bass have been two of the hallmarks of international popular music since rock and roll.  Some genres of this popular music like heavy metal seem to particularly exploit the highly penetrating vibrations of these instruments.  And it is as if the vibrations are auditory strings and the listeners are puppets who are almost impelled to make jerky muscular movements in response.  To me, this response has a different flavor from the natural response of people to rhythmic sounds in music based primarily on acoustic instruments.

            In many rock clubs there is also an explosive visual stimulation to complement the penetrating vibratory sounds of modern pop music.  The strobe lights are as sensorily disruptive as the electric instruments.  Strobe lights can provoke seizures in people who have photosensitive epilepsy.  But for most modern young people, they are simply an added element in increasing the total intensity of the experience.  The combination of the auditory disruption of the music and the visual disruption of the lights creates a machine-based ecstatic disequilibrium for them.

            Technology has been used to create a purposeful disequilibrium in human entertainment for many years now.  Perhaps the most salient examples are the roller coasters, ferris wheels and other rides found in amusement parks.  The disequilibrium of these rides was a special treat when they first appeared.  They offered something unusual for people who, for the most part, lived very conventional routine lives.  And this is the key.  People who went to amusement parks did not usually go that often.  My friends and I went a few times during the summer at most.

            On the other hand, people can listen to recordings of heavy metal music all the time.  And they can go to music clubs every week.  So sensorily disruptive technology is much more integrated into people’s entertainment today than in the early days of the amusement park.

            Other forms of entertaining sensorily disruptive technology today are in the area of transportation.  Certain forms of high speed transport create tremendous disequilibrium through a rapidly moving sense of dislocation.  Vehicles like race cars and motorcycles.  Apart from the dislocation of the rapid speeding movement, there is the additional component of the abrasive static noise.  Race cars are the domain of a more select group of people, but a lot of young people love to speed with their conventional cars, sometimes specially re-outfitted for more speed and more noise, and many people have motorcycles and motor scooters.  For many people, motorcycles and motor scooters are their fundamental form of transport.  Within the sensory distortion these vehicles create, people are also very vulnerable to serious accidents.

            What unites all these sensorily disruptive technological devices is that they are attempts by humans to create controlled sensory distortion to block out the pervasive sensory distortion in their external living environments, a pervasive sensory distortion over which they have no control.  The crowding, the bundles of highrises, the speeding noisy vehicles on the street, the air pollution, the dust, noise, and general disruption from construction sites.  This controlled sensory distortion is also a means to block out the deeper experiential vacuum that underlies all human experience in modern technological societies as a result of the loss of organic grounding.  In a living environment with very little organic grounding, people try to calibrate the amount of stimulation they receive by going back and forth between overstimulation and understimulation.  The entertaining sensorily disruptive technological devices that have been discussed in this article are simply a part of the overstimulation segment of the total configuration of stimuli that many people create for themselves today.

            But although people are vulnerable to cravings for sources of overstimulation today in their sensorily distorted living environments, these cravings are not simply generated by their own needs.  In previous articles, it has been discussed how modern businesspeople assess where the “pain” is in people’s lives, a “pain” that is a source of friction. Then they try to develop and market labor-saving devices and apps to eliminate this friction.  The source of friction is usually a source of organic friction, a natural part of human routine that helps to keep a person, alive, connected to himself and to the external world.  In order to convince a potential customer to buy this labor-saving device or app, a businessperson has to convince him that the friction he is experiencing is actually an abrasive negative tension-pocket source of stimulation that should be eliminated.  And, of course, the continual elimination of positive sources of organic stimuli pushes a person deeper and deeper into an experiential vacuum in his mind.

            This is where entertaining sensorily disruptive technological devices come into the picture.  While some businesspeople market the possibility of eliminating all supposedly painful friction, so that people can live a supposedly beautiful relaxed life of leisure, other businesspeople market sources of sensorily disruptive stimuli such as those we have been discussing in this article, in order to pull people out of their numbness, to help them feel fully alive, to give them “kicks”.

            The end result is a situation where consumers are titillated to purchase products and services that allow them to try to calibrate the amount and kind of stimuli that they absorb, within a field of experience with very little in the way of organic flowing blendable continual stimuli from grounded sources.  So consumers bounce back and forth between the overstimulation of large bundles of defined discrete stimuli and the understimulation of infinite continuous emptiness stimuli, between tension-pocket and vacuum.  This bouncing back and forth occurs both in a consumer’s direct contact with the products and services and also within the consumer’s mind through advertising suggestion.

            Habituations and addictions develop in people when certain fundamental emotional needs can’t be met through normal channels, through available sources of emotional stimuli.  So people develop emotional attachments to disparate phenomena (drugs, alcohol, food, gambling).  They develop receptors for receiving stimuli from these phenomena in the hope of deriving stimulation for and thus satisfaction of the original need.  Of course, the original need is not satisfied by the stimuli from these alternate phenomena, but the mental and physical pathways have been developed that create desires for these alternate phenomena.  So the person continues to go after these alternate phenomena while always failing to satisfy the original need.

            In today’s world, businesspeople market vacuum-creating labor saving devices and apps and tension-pocket creating entertainment filled with kicks as a substitute for the fundamental needs for organic grounding that people have in modern technological society.  People crave these modern products and services, because solid organic grounding is not easily available.  They crave these products and services in a way that has similarities to the cravings for the products and services involved in traditional habituations and addictions.  The world today is filled with these modern products and services and the money paid for these modern products and services, but the stimuli of organic grounding that can give people cohesion and a feeling of being centered is in short supply.
(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow


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