Enjoyment as Moral Depravity

If you dig it, don’t do it

Susan Brassfield Cogan
Sep 19 · 5 min read

I am sick and freaking tired of being scolded for reading the New York Times on my phone or looking at a friend’s photos of their kids and cats. Heaven forbid I am talking to a friend I don’t have time to visit instead of talking to a total freaking stranger in a grocery store or on a train.

Shut up about my phone I’m enjoying it myself.

It’s a distraction

Yes, it can be a major distraction and time suck. But you know what? I’m creative. I’m widely known for it. If I turn my phone off and put it in another room, I can always get a non-electronic distraction going. My journal is a mess. Is that a crossword puzzle in the recycling box?

Am I supposed to be writing a blog post? I don’t dare open my laptop. It’s just a phone with no threat of annoying robocalls. Texting is even easier because I have a life-sized keyboard.

So blogs that get written in one day get written with pen and paper … you are reading that right. A notebook doesn’t need to be plugged in, never refuses to boot up, weighs almost nothing and doesn’t “bleep” “blurp” and “ching” at you every five minutes.

And sometimes I take a Bluetooth keyboard to a noisy, crowded coffee shop. Then, like an adult, I close out of Instagram and Pet Rescue Saga and open Google docs.

It isolates you

How? There I am with my feet up reading Paul Krugman lambasting the FED for raising interest rates. Then six people will call, text, come to the door, walk up to me, and want to discuss six things that I usually care about but not just right this minute.

Isolation sounds lovely.

And people don’t meet each other

I recently read an article about how most — or a large percentage — of young adults meet through dating apps instead of in “meatspace.”

Since they are so devoted to their phones — the critic states with zero evidence — they never look up and meet “real” people.

To a pre-internet person “looking for love” online seems pathetic. It’s like answering a lonely hearts ad from the back of the newspaper. Yes, that used to be a thing.

For people who don’t remember a world without the internet, the internet is a valid part of what older people would call the “real” world.

Back in the olden days, teens couldn’t “visit” or date without a chaperone. Teens back then resented it. But teens then and now, are children who can’t see the big picture yet.

In the less olden days, young people didn’t have to put up with a chaperone so they dragged along friends or met in public places.

The chaperone role is as necessary now as it was then.

The dating app fills that role. It allows people to meet a wider array of strangers in perfect safety. Texting back and forth for a few days means you can weed out people with whom you have nothing in common or who have a creepy vibe.

It’s not perfect but neither was the chaperone system.

Not talking

I’ve seen many photos of groups of young people sitting together all looking at their phones. They should be talking to each other! Kids these days!

It’s not hard to find photos of people reading books and newspapers and not talking to each other. They usually don’t have scolding and dismissive captions.

The truth is, people in a crowded subway don’t want to talk to the perfect stranger next to them.

And how many times have you sat at a table with friends and one of them says “have any of you seen the cat picture I posted to Facebook?” and all of them pull out their phones and take a look. Anything less would be rude.

And so what?

And so what. Sometimes I’m working away, radiating virtue, hardly having fun at all. Then I need to find a train wreck picture to go with a new blog post. In the search, I happen upon Pinterest. I love Pinterest!

Three hours later I look up and realize I’m not one inch closer to what I was looking for. The only train wreck is my afternoon.

However

There is a book called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

A flow state is very important for creativity. It is also very pleasurable.

If you go into a flow state when you are working, you get a free pass on that pleasure thing.

But a flow state with no productivity? Just for the sake of enjoyment? How dare you! It’s morally contemptible, verging on depraved. The world certainly deserves an apology for unearned enjoyment.

So people feel guilty for wasting time — time when they could have been useful.

The usefulness of uselessness

Being useful is a good thing. I freely admit that. Puritanical views of idleness infest US culture down to this very day. Idleness is a sin. Wasting time is a sin. The sin is doubled if you waste someone else’s time.

I am as infected with this mental virus as everyone else. If I’m not doing anything — and watching Netflix isn’t doing anything — then I should be sketching or crocheting or sewing or, gosh, writing.

You earn enjoyment by doing something productive.

Screw that.

It is a fairly well-established fact that gazing into space, not talking to the stranger on a train (Hey, that would make a nice movie title!) is very important to a creative person. So is exposure to all kinds of art and ideas.

But you know what? Sitting and doing something you really enjoy is not a moral catastrophe.

Minding our own business

If you spend your life on your phone, it’s your life to spend. Enjoy your cat pictures, your Candy Crush, and your Tik-Tok.

Somehow, as a culture, we have lost the knack of minding our own business.

In fact in Internet World minding your own business is an absolutely alien concept. People can’t get their mind around the fact that the lives of perfect strangers are not a reality show you can watch and comment on.

And find polite and friendly ways to tell the Puritanical scolds to mind their own friggin business.

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Susan Brassfield Cogan

Written by

Author, CTI Life Coach, Buddhist, Left Wing Polemicist. I write about a lot of different things: www.susanbcogan.com

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