I’ve had two things open in my browser all day while I’ve been finishing off that policy paper: a review of The Age of Absurdity and Hugh Macleod’s ‘boring’ is underrated comic/post.
These seem to me to go together and also seem to be a message the universe keeps trying to morse-code to me. Gotta do the hard work, take it step by step, ignore the emotions, quit looking for excitement. You can’t succeed with that bursty stuff you used to do.
In The Age of Absurdity (as reviewed in The Guardian) author Michael Foley takes aim at the culture of instant-constant-increasing gratification and looks to the twin cures of detachment and difficulty, things I’ve been looking for myself over the past few weeks.
It’s not even as if we want what we have once we’ve got it. Foley calls this “the glamour of potential”, a relentless churning of desire by which the things we have are devalued by the things we want next. The only way out of the churn is “detachment”…
The difficulty of change is aggravated in a society in which difficulty itself is avoided. Hence the study of science dwindles in universities (“Why submit to mathematical rigour when you can do a degree in surfing and beach management?”) and sales of oranges plummet because people will no longer take the trouble to peel them.
This avoidance of difficulty is what I’m looking for in the big data analysis project looming this week… I want to see if cultures higher on self-expression show lower math achievement, with the moderator of “liking math.” In other words, do students who really enjoy math get directed towards high level achievement with it? Or, as happens in our culture (I think), do they get dissuaded because instead they might do something more authentic? I mean, what does it express about you if you like to do math? (Hint: you’re a nerd!)
In Macleod’s boring is underrated, I’m reminded that getting a book deal from your blog used to be big news, that making money blogging was hot, that blogging in 2004 was edgy and exploratory and experimental. It was exciting. Yes, yes, yes. I remember all that.
But I agree with him that boring <> bad (where, for you non-programmers “<>” means “not equal” or “isn’t equal to”). Blogging as a technology is boring but the ideas and connections and possibilities are not. Similarly, long hard work in support of an important goal may feel boring at times, but the results are not.
Still I can’t quite get worked up about detached, difficult, and boring. And I hope those words don’t start to apply to me just because I’m working on detachment, learning difficult topics, and slogging through the boringness.