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WHY DO WE PLACE SO MUCH VALUE ON ENTERTAINMENT AND ESCAPISM?

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by Manal Ghosain

September 30, 2013

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Entertainment is a booming business. Its appeal continues to grow as it adapts to different formats to keep up with technology. Television has exploded in the past decade or so. There are more channels and specialty channels than ever before—on TV screens, tablets, and computers.

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We have DIY videos (thanks to YouTube and what followed). Netflix is responsible for roughly a third of the Internet bandwidth usage. Social media has become a fertile ground for entertainers and entertainment promotion. And let’s not forget the massive video game industry.

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Thanks to globalization, the insatiable appetite for entertainment knows no bounds. More people are willing to pay for entertainment with their time and money.

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Why do we value entertainment so much?

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Passive entertainment is a form of escapism. It takes us away from our reality and transports us to another world—not our own.

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I’m in no way placing blame or judgment on entertainers or consumers. The purpose of this article is to explore the inner workings of my own mind and desire to escape and share that with you.

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I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with entertainment. It’s the passiveness and escapism part that need further examination.

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Why do we want to escape?

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These are the three reasons that I feel cover most areas.

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Boredom or loneliness: We don’t know what to do with ourselves. The monotony of daily life gets to us and we feel we need some excitement and variety to change things up a bit.

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A TV constantly running in the background, and maybe catching our attention every now and then, keeps us company.

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Fear and avoidance: We don’t want to face something we fear, or can’t bring ourselves to move past the fear and do something about it. We’re scared to pursue what we want, so we choose the most familiar path—turning on the TV.

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Struggle: Life sometimes feels like a battle—traffic, work and family demands, taking care of ourselves and keeping up with what’s going on. At the end of the day all we want to do is forget about all of it and sit mindlessly in front of the screen.

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Escaping has never been easier than today. We have unprecedented access to all forms of distraction at our fingertips. And the most favored escape is entertainment

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Why is entertainment in such high demand?

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Most of us live stressful lives at an ever-accelerating pace.

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The desire to take a break and unwind passively makes entertainment the best option to escape.

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Some of the reasons entertainment has mass appeal are below.

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Easily accessible and affordable: You can stay at home and watch TV, stream Netflix or surf online all day long.

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Social connection: One can line up for a movie’s release and socialize with other people or go to a ballgame and cheer for his or her favorite team. Or talk about last night’s episode of XYZ show with coworkers. Entertainment has become something people have in common and can talk about.

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Living vicariously through others: Entertainers are not only admired for their talent, but how they look, what they do, and how they live. Their lives continue to unfold enticing us to seek more—even if the fairytale turns to a nightmare—we still want to know what they’re up to.

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We also live through our superheroes and their adventures. We become the masters of our domain and have all the adventure our heart desires—on screen.

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All forms of entertainment are okay if we know what we’re doing. And more importantly, we can stop when we want to. In other words, we don’t use entertainment as a drug to escape and avoid.

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Let’s take a look at what happens when we passively escape through entertainment.

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What happens when we escape through passive entertainment?

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There is nothing wrong with using our imagination or borrowing someone else’s imagination to escape, if we want to. But we need to address the following concerns first.

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Depleting attention (mental energy)

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When we escape, we give our attention and energy away without anything in return other than escaping.

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Nothing in our lives changes because we passively watched hours of TV or went to every ballgame for an entire season.

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Just like physical energy, our mental energy (attention) is a depleting resource. The more we spend it, the less we have at the end of the day. Which brings me to the next point.

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Lower brain waves and suggestibility

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Watching TV can numb the mind and induce lower alpha waves that are associated with suggestibility.

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Product placement and advertising have become an art and science that is geared towards one thing only—to convince you to buy what you see.

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Even when you don’t buy into the commercials, the message of the show that you’re watching can seep into your subconscious.

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Guilt and pain

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Escaping as an aversion technique comes with a high cost—guilt. If I’m watching TV instead of writing, I won’t enjoy the show because a nagging thought that I should be writing will continue to pester me.

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Guilt is an absolute waste of energy. Add to it depleted mental energy and I won’t stand a chance of writing anything. I would’ve wasted my energy watching TV and feeling guilty about it.

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I don’t think we need to eliminate entertainment; that would be extreme and uncalled for. But we can do things differently to reduce the negative side effects.

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How can we actively enjoy entertainment?

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I’m working with these steps and I hope they work for you too.

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Priorities and choice

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We always have a choice: face our fears and reality or escape.

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If you tried escaping before and it didn’t help, it’s time to deal with the real issues.

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Before watching a TV show, playing a video game, or surfing the net, make sure that the important stuff is taken care off. For me I would finish my writing before I start watching.

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With DVRs and constant online streaming, there is no rush to watch something right at this moment.

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Leave your favorite show to the end of the day, after you’ve taken care of what matters to you. This will eliminate the guilt and allow you to indulge and enjoy every minute.

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If you feel tired after work and want to rest, do that. Take a nap or meditate, or go for a short walk. Such activities are relaxing but they renew rather than deplete your energy.

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Actively engage

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When you stop using entertainment as an escape, you can use it to inspire and motivate. Entertainment can be a wonderful medium of creative and artistic expression that elevates and educates.

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Watch with intention and immerse yourself in the show. Be selective about what you want to watch. And it’s better to do it commercial free. Record the show and skip the ads if you can.

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Reflect after you watch a show and think about its message and how it affects you.

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Don’t be afraid to drop something. I used to feel if I invested time (misleading thought) in watching a show, I should watch it to the end. If something is not grasping your attention, cut your losses and stop now.

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Time limit

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Any form of escaping can be a massive time suck. Before you know it, you wasted three hours with nothing to show for. So set a time limit for each activity to reduce the risk of slipping back into passive mode.

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Take a break

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Whatever form of entertainment you enjoy, take a break every now and then. A break will give you a different perspective. If you enjoy something, you’ll miss it. And if you don’t, you’ll feel relieved. Then you can make a different choice.

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There is nothing wrong with entertainment, if we don’t place a higher value on it than our own reality and what matters to us.

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When we entertain ourselves mindfully, we won’t need to escape. We turn entertainment into the reality of the moment. We do it with clarity and intent, and when we’re done, we move on—with no attachment or regret. And that can be a lot of fun.

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A PERSONAL NOTE:

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75% OF THE POPULATION ARE STIMULATED EXTERNALLY (ENTERTAINMENT)  – 25% ARE STIMULATED INTERNALLY (THOUGHT).

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DAN ZWICKER

TORONTO

IF YOU WANT MORE CONTINUE

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II

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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ENTERTAINMENT :

DOES ENTERTAINMENT HAVE AN EVOLUTIONARY PURPOSE?

 

February 24, 2010

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One of the interesting things we found about the 20th century was that humans are not really built to deal with abundance. Anytime we have too much of anything, our evolutionary guidance control systems seem to go awry. The human survival mechanisms were designed in an environment of scarcity.

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In the words of John Locke:

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“The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

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We were built to rise above the odds, to survive in spite of adversity and hardship. In that scenario, the resiliency of humans is astonishing. But once the fight is over, we tend to languish and drift. History has repeated the story over and over again. The first well documented case was the fall of the Roman Empire:

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“But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight…. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians.”

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– Gibbon – Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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Getting Soft Does Not Equal Survival

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The Inevitable Effect of Immoderate Greatness….a cautionary tale if ever there was one. What does that have to do with the psychology of entertainment? Well, everything. With abundance comes leisure time. With leisure time comes a desire to seek entertainment. And when we seek entertainment to excess, we tend to get mired down as a society. As Edward Gibbon documented, the Roman Empire fell because of many factors – a wide spread empire that overcame its notion of centralized government, the rise of Christianity, economic reasons, but most of all, Rome fell because most Romans found themselves in the leisure class and didn’t know what to do with themselves. They got soft.

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We’re A Modern Rome, and that’s not a Good Thing

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My personal feeling is that we’re currently following in Rome’s footsteps. The 20th Century was one of extreme excess. The richest parts of the world got fat and lazy. No, not everyone. But on the average, the facts speak for themselves. Over 70% of Americans are fat or obese. If we look at the last 50 years, the percentage of US adults who are obese or extremely obese has gone from under 15% (in 1960) to 41.3% (2006) according to the National Health Examination Survey. And the latest AC Neilsen numbers indicate that the average American spends over 5 hours a day watching TV. That’s 153 hours of TV every single month. Of course, TV’s not the only passive form of entertainment we consume, but it’s by far the most measurable and easiest to identify. Using the internet is rapidly catching up, with Forrester reporting we spend about 12 hours a week, or 50 hours a month, online. Of course, one of the challenges we’ll identify with online time is that it’s difficult to categorize it as entertainment. But let’s say that at least 25% of our time online is spent being entertained in some way (consumption of online video is a popular activity). That brings the grand total to about 165 hours a month being passively entertained, about the same time we spend at our jobs and almost as much time as we spend sleeping.

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 We spend almost a third of our lives being entertained, in one way or the other. This is not active entertainment, this is not social entertainment, and in most cases, this is not intellectually stimulating entertainment. This is sitting in front of a screen consuming mindless entertainment. Humans were not built to do that.

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If one were a Darwinist (which I am) one would have to ask – what is the evolutionary point of entertainment? With the single minded view of Richard Dawkin’s selfish gene, how does our creation of and need for entertainment increase the odds of our genes propagating? It’s not an unusual question. The same question has been asked about art, for example. Here, I think it’s important to explore the difference between a genotype and a phenotype, as the two often get confused when evolutionary questions arise.

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Genotypes and Phenotypes

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The genotype (courtesy of Professor John Blamire) is “the “internally coded, inheritable information” carried by all living organisms. This stored information is used as a “blueprint” or set of instructions for building and maintaining a living creature. These instructions are found within almost all cells (the “internal” part), they are written in a coded language (the genetic code), they are copied at the time of cell division or reproduction and are passed from one generation to the next (“inheritable”). These instructions are intimately involved with all aspects of the life of a cell or an organism. They control everything from the formation of protein macromolecules, to the regulation of metabolism and synthesis.”

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The phenotype is “the “outward, physical manifestation” of the organism. These are the physical parts, the sum of the atoms, molecules, macromolecules, cells, structures, metabolism, energy utilization, tissues, organs, reflexes and behaviors; anything that is part of the observable structure, function or behavior of a living organism.”

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The difference between a genotype and a phenotype is where many nature/nurture debates get hung up on the rocks. It might be helpful to use an analogy, going back to the concept of a “blueprint”.

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The Genetics of Urban Renewal

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Imagine you’re the architect of a new building that is to be built in the downtown core. You design the building to be the best possible fit for the location where it’s to be built. You put together a highly detailed plan for the building, down to where each outlet is to be placed and the finish of each door knob. Then, you pass the plan over to the construction crew. This is the building’s “genome”.

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The building gets built according to your plan, but then your influence over the building is finished. The building becomes a physical object within an environment, and as such, it has many interactions with that environment. These interactions can alter the nature of the building (especially if you’ve built flexibility into your initial design, which is certainly the case in the human genotype) and also, the building will alter the nature of the environment. For example, let’s say this new building was meant as a showpiece for renewal in an older and more run down part of the downtown core. If the building was successful in this goal, one might see it’s spark further development around it, literally changing the face of the environment.

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Here’s another example. Let’s say the building was a 32 storey office tower that replaced a 2 storey run down apartment block. Obviously, that’s going to significantly increase the number of people who occupy the “footprint” of the building. In the old building, we might have had 20 lower income families. Suddenly, we have almost 5000 office workers who come to the building between the hours of 8 and 5, then go home. Any urban planner is going to see the dramatic impact that is going to have one the surrounding area. Parking, services, recreational areas, traffic routes…all these things will have to change to accommodate your design.

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None of these environment changes were captured in your original blueprint, but they all resulted directly because of your plan. These changes, the interplay between the building and it’s environment, is a rough analogy for a phenotype. The phenotype is the “long shadow” of the genotype.

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Evolution is a Harsh Critic of Phenotypes

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Here’s another important fact to consider about phenotypes and genotypes. Evolution is relatively ambivalent about phenotypes. While they’re important to the organism, they serve a perfunctory role in natural adaption. Phenotypes are the acid test that determines whether or not genes get passed on. If the genotype leads to a phenotypical environment that results in higher reproductive success, it will get passed on. It if doesn’t, it dies out. This is the sole driver behind Dawkin’s selfish gene.

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To go back to our building analogy, it’s as if the sole success of the building was determined by how much lease revenue it generated over a 50 year period. If it generated more than all the other buildings in a 5 block radius, your design would be used again and again. Using this one measure of success, all the phenotypical impact of the building – the rerouting of streets, the sparking of new construction, the addition of parking facilities, the very change in this section of the downtown core – only matter if these led to more lease revenue. If not, all these outcomes of your design are irrelevant.

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If we talk about entertainment, I suspect we’re talking about phenotypes, not genotypes.

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GORD HOTCHKISS

 

 

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