That’s the trouble with everybody – you’re all so bored,” rants Johnny, the protagonist of Mike Leigh’s 1993 film Naked. “You’ve had nature explained to you and you’re bored with it, you’ve had the living body explained to you and you’re bored with it, you’ve had the universe explained to you and you’re bored with it. So now you want cheap thrills and like plenty of them, and it don’t matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it’s new, as long as it flashes and f-kin’ bleeps in forty f-kin’ different colors.”
Twenty-five years on, he would surely feel even greater despair over today’s hyper-speed world of digital distraction, hedonism, and increasingly short-lived fads. We are drowning in escapism—in engineered fun and novelty—and we’ve completely lost touch with how we got here. To borrow from Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan, another fictional character who gets the absurdity of our modern condition, we’re crushing candy, quoting Shakespeare, and hiding in the toilets of our own homes. It’s the confused high point of Western civilization.
Over thousands of years, great men—thinkers, engineers and scientists—gradually figured out what makes a mass-scale society function smoothly. At some point we reached such a level of mastery that millions could all but escape from reality, their basic needs met through little to no toil of their own. We now live among hordes of zombified consumers who—diverted by fidget spinners and Facebook feeds—seemingly give no thought to the blood, sweat and tears that went into building this bizarre utopia.
Are you one of them? Well, if you’re not sure, consider this. Every day, whenever you want, you turn a tap for water to begin rushing out at the exact temperature and speed you desire. Have you ever given this a second thought? Have you ever wondered for more than a few seconds where all that technology came from, or how people managed before it existed?