Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Health & Fitness
  3. Mental Health

Adventures in Time Displacement

See also

Have you ever said “Time flies?” We all have. At the very least, you've thought it, in the not too distant past.

Where do the hours go? How do we properly choose which investments of time to make? All too often, it's things like computer games—is anyone reading this addicted to online solitaire? Or gossip websites...or sports scores... or alcohol. With so many distractions, nay addictions, it's no surprise that 24 hours in a day turns out to be nowhere near enough!

Famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi noted, in his landmark work Flow, that psychic entropy (general fatigue, weariness regarding thought and even personhood) is the inevitable result of having made poor choices with regard to how time is spent (or misspent) in the long-term. Csikszentmihalyi went so far as to say that the inordinate number of hours spent watching television, by the average person, was a direct result of how little that person chose to engage his or her consciousness. Basically, we watch TV because it fills the silence--and the silence scares us! Csikszentmihalyi's implication here is that most people feel this way. Most, he intimates, have no satisfying inner life--and when faced with the choice of being alone with their thoughts or watching a Seinfeld episode for the second or third time, most will opt for TV. Even just as background noise.

I've presented this idea to people before; more often than not, I get the same response: But I don't watch that much TV. Wait a minute, and ask yourself...is the TV on in the morning while you're getting ready for work? Is it on while you eat dinner or pay bills at night? What does it drown out, in terms of meaningful conversations with loved ones?

Now, I've already touched on the fact that the Internet can be a huge time waster (does the world really need a Perez Hilton?) But I've started to approach my own time spent online in a more orderly fashion. Before, I would “suck on the computer” (as a technophobe friend termed it) for at least a little while every day. Now, I pretty much just go on every other day, and spend less time because I am more focused. (This piece was written longhand because I believe in the work of Longcamp, Klein & Boals, and others in the neuroscience field who are just beginning to posit that the motor act of writing AS WELL AS the cerebral act of composing are beneficial to cognitive longevity-- to cite a related mainstream work that is easily accessible to most in their libraries, see Dr. David Snowden's now-classic Nun Study.)

Psychic energy expended in a haphazard manner weakens your overall ability to focus; disjointed attention spans weakens overall physical energy levels which inevitably increases stress as 'what should get done' mounts in comparison to 'what does get done.' What does increased stress equal, if not poorer overall health?

The average person's media usage makes actors, singers, and advertisers rich. It makes cable companies rich. All it does in the bargain is leave you profoundly worse for wear.

In Flow, Csikszentmihalyi discusses the ideal of the autotelic personality; such an individual spends his or her time engaged only or primarily in activities which are comprised of either physically or mentally exerting ingredients—as opposed to the passivity which comprises aimless daydreaming or TV viewing. In fact, in one anecdote from the book, Csikszentmihalyi relates the tale of a ship's captain at sea, on a long voyage. The captain finally sees another ship in the distance, after days and days of complete solitude. The two ships set course to meet. When they arrive beside one another, our captain telling this story describes the terrible odor he smells and he quickly identifies hardened egg on the ship's deck, cooking in the sun.

The captain of the second boat relates that, being by himself, he took the eggs from his refrigerator and tossed them out onto the deck. Allowing them harden in the sun provided him with the subsequent opportunity to stave off boredom and inactivity by scrubbing the decks clean.

I think this raises an interesting question, as there are those who would say: no music, no movies, no TV, no Internet--how boring! Let me ask you this... what are your goals? How would people describe you? How would your friends describe you to someone who didn't know you? Sadly, it may be that what we choose to call someone's personality is really no more than just a laundry list of things they've chosen to allow themselves to be distracted by.

If we unplug from media usage-- turning off the TV, the radio, forgoing movies and music and needlessly stressful news reports--our mindset changes. What we think and feel and talk about undergoes a shift that, with time, is purported to equal a positive (or at least a more peaceful) frame of mind. Sleep at night is more satisfying and dreams are more fulfilling. Media usage, to me, equals that old ubiquitous saying 'time flies.'

Must Reads:
1. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Dr. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (1990)

2. Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the Nun Study.
Danner, Deborah D.; Snowdon, David A.; Friesen, Wallace V.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 80(5), May 2001, 804-813. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.80.5.804

3. Longcamp, M., Boucard, C., Gilhodes, J., Anton, J., Roth, M., Nazarian, B., et al. (2008). Learning through hand- or typewriting influences visual recognition of new graphic shapes: Behavioral and functional imaging evidence. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(5), 802-815.

4. Radical Simplicity, by Dan Price (2005).

Advertisement