Novelty as the Fuel for Consumption ( and Suffering )

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by Stacy Mizrahi.

As a suffer of ADHD, it took some time to see a pattern in my life that has led to considerable problems. One of my primary patters was the perception that time was allusive and fleeting. I felt as if I could never take full advantage of the time that was in my hands – as if some great force had robbed me of the capacity to wield time efficiently. At some point in my travels I came across some authors that worked in the workplace efficiently space ( Cal Newport comes to mind), I became aware of the beast that was novelty. Some may think of novelty as the fruits of freedom – a cornucopia of options that allows one to wield their decisions and new explore possibilities. It doesn’t matter if one is trying on shoes in a massive shoe store or reading articles from different online publishers, the ways in which novelty are engaged can be cognitively engaging , stimulating and at the same time exhausting. With the old expression “shop till you drop” comes the implication that dropping will eventually happen! In this case, we can substitute the word dropping for burnout.

Within the time of consumption, the cognitive task management is at its peek as the brain is tasked with interpretation, decisions, recall and formulating opinions. The perception of time gets minimized during this period as the attention is focused on current tasks. With the blink of an eye, the sun moves across the sky and then there is the perception that time is lost. Whether productive accomplishments were done or not, the time was used by the brain doing SOMETHING. For some, tasks of little consequence might be consumed while the time is effortless burned away. From a task-management perspective, many authors in this space concentrate on slimming down decision and options, giving space for productivity to flourish. Certainly, productivity is a result of slimming things down when novelty is reduced. What is not discussed is the relationship to suffering. Novelty can be a vice, which any gaming, porn or gambling addict can tell you. A vice can delivery both novelty and pleasure, but the activity destroys the perception time while dominating bandwidth that would otherwise be used for important tasks.

There is, however a greater problem in people unwilling to label something a vice. The aforementioned behaviors have negative social stigmas attached. What about checking in with your social media? Buying a new purse? Watching an new episode of your favorite show? People would far less likely label these behaviors as vices, yet we live in the era of binging shows on Netflix, several open social apps on the phone, and endless shopping on Amazon. To what degree do these impact YOUR life? It is a topic that must be dealt with truthfully so that any reflexive denial and can mitigated. Has a TV show really improved your life? Has that social media post given you something rewarding? These are the questions that help determine of the task at hand has actual value as opposed to fleeting novelty.

Often, the problem breaks down to an unwillingness to let things go. People have a tendency to sacrifice long-term happiness for immediate gratification. This happiness is of course fleeting and will eventually lead to suffering when time has elapsed and productivity has lowered ones sense of self-worth. That is not to say that productivity is the secret to unlocking happiness, rather that we all tend to not critically analyze the transactional nature of happiness within our lives. There is always a COST, and we tend to ignore that reality until the bill comes due.

stacy mizrahi
Stacy Mizrahi  is an IT consultant, speaker, instructional designer and advocate of meditation.