A Science article through Reuters reports a group of studies by a psychologist at the University of Virginia. He asked people to sit alone awake doing nothing for no more than 15 minutes both in the lab or at their homes. In some trials he gave them the option of self administering a mild shock (that is brilliant). In general the subjects found this experience aversive; when at home many cheated and texted, went online, etc. Males had a harder time than females, and many chose to self administer the shock rather than sit quietly. Anything for a cheap thrill, eh?
This study seems to me simple, elegant and telling on a number of levels. The easy interpretation is that we have reduced our tolerance of stillness with our electronic ambient. Okay, but I have known many people, mostly farmers, who were generally never still. If awake they were doing; if done, they might sit on the porch and visit or watch a sunset or just go on to sleep. We also have our habitual activities which we like. Our TV broke last week and we went a couple of evenings without it, sitting on the deck and reading more (lovely) but we were glad to see a sale on Saturday for its replacement. And we are meditators so sitting quietly for 20-30 minutes focused on our interiority with no outer activity is routine.
Still we (especially the modern American culture) have shaped our preferences and males are more limited in these. Before I retired as a clinical psychologist to work the farm I saw many boys and teens with low frustration tolerance, low engagement in family activities especially household maintenance, poor sleep, and poor school performance despite good intelligence. My initial interview quickly focused on screen time, e.g., games, texting, TV, etc. The ‘cure’ was to reduce screen time and replace it with real, meaning non-virtual activities and to develop increased capacity for stillness, meaning calm engagement with the virtual interiority of our consciousness. These often proved difficult to implement. Likewise many adult friends find movies boring unless they have some adrenalin surge aspects like explosions, horror, etc. And of course many males invest in sports and watching the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat in games.
With the ambient so electronically constructed (have you seen the movie Her?) what new mutations will rise in the population and what old standbys will recede? If the UVA psychologist did the same experiment in a less wired culture, say Nepal or rural China or any stable agricultural, less industrialized and electrified area, would the results differ significantly? While we wait for these answers, please sit quietly and enjoy the view, outward and inward, Namaste.