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Welcome to another Mindf*ck Monday email, the only weekly newsletter that seeks progress through failure and wisdom through error. Each week, I introduce three ideas that challenge us to be slightly less terrible human beings. This week, we’re discussing: 1) how pausing society has paradoxically become an accelerant of change, 2) why people are having less sex, and 3) our growing inability to simply be ordinary.
Let’s get into it.
1. The Great Accelerator – Throughout history, economic crises have had a tendency to accelerate the economic trends that are already happening. If you were manufacturing CDs in 2001, life already sucked—rampant internet piracy, MP3s, the birth of streaming. You were already having a rough time—but through an economic downturn on top of that and you were doubly screwed. The downturn kept more customers at home, shopping online, finding MP3 downloads, and file-sharing sites.
Hello, Apple music store. Goodbye physical music store.
The same changes have been going on during this crisis. In fact, given how sudden and extreme the recent downturn has been, I would argue that the acceleration has been even quicker.
Netflix and Disney were eating Hollywood before the pandemic. Now, there might as well be no Hollywood. Home delivery services were already slowly crushing retail chains and turning shopping centers into ghost towns. Now, there is nothing but home delivery. Work-from-home services were already making in-roads into the corporate world, slowly convincing large corporations of the efficiency of letting their employees stay home more often. Now, it’s likely that many large companies will discover that they have no use for that massive office space. They can do fine (or even better!) without it.
But the great change acceleration isn’t limited to business and economics. It’s taking place in our personal lives as well.
Relationships have been accelerated. People who only recently started dating find themselves more or less forced to move in together, whether they are mentally ready to or not. Marriages with fissures have seen their foundations broken wide open by the stress. Relationships that were on the mend, given uninterrupted months of proximity and intimacy, have found themselves unexpectedly healed and repaired. Friendships that were deteriorating have dropped by the wayside and friendships that were ascendant have taken their place.
It is a paradox. Our lives have been paused, yet our emotional and cultural changes have accelerated. Kids are forced to grow up faster. Parents are forced to sacrifice far more and do it far sooner than they ever imagined. The erosion of trust in our media and governments has accelerated. Polarization has found a sixth gear. Bloated bureaucracies are failing and cronyism is being exposed faster and more frequently than ever before. Disinformation and propaganda are proliferating in a way that makes the 2016 election look like a warm-up.
Vladimir Lenin said, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”
Get ready. Our technocratic future will be here much sooner than we thought.
2. News of the pandemic baby boom has been greatly exaggerated – Here’s another trend that has been accelerated: sex. For the past few decades, the amount of sex people have has been declining and scientists don’t know why.
Young people are waiting longer to become sexually active, and once they start, they are less promiscuous than previous generations. Married couples are getting it on less often than before and couples with kids, even less than that. This has been a long-term trend with a lot of plausible theories—the rise of internet porn, longer workweeks and more financial stress, increasing possibilities of entertainment, etc.—but we still don’t know exactly why.
Back in March, many pundits wrote about a potential pandemic baby boom. One columnist wrote that casual sex becomes rampant in war-time, so why not pandemic-time? (Um, because viruses?) Couples would be home together and be bored all day, the thinking went, so why not fuck? I wrote in the March 30th newsletter that I was doubtful. Last time I checked, spending weeks on end in the same pair of sweatpants is not a well-established aphrodisiac.
It’s with this in mind that I present the first major study of sexual activity during quarantine. A study of 838 UK adults living in social isolation found that fewer than 40% have been sexually active on a weekly basis, a number well below the normal range of sexual activity.
Obviously, there are many limitations with a study like this. Was the group they analyzed representative of the general population? Was their definition of “sexual activity” reasonable? Did they take into consideration that single people can’t really date right now? Did they measure this activity over a significant enough period of time? Did they factor in the staggering amount of self-loathing that average Englishman sustains on even a reasonably good day?
Sadly, no. It’s important to remember that studies like this are not “proof” of anything. They simply present evidence. How much weight we give to that evidence is up to us.
3. Is average over? – Years ago, in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, I wrote about how the vast majority of our experiences and endeavors will be quite average and mediocre. Yet, our constant exposure to what is extraordinary skews our expectations of what a “good life” should be. This has caused us to focus on chasing the “extraordinary” life at the expense of what actually makes us happy, healthy individuals.
(I discuss this concept in more depth with a number of examples in a recent video: How to Be Extraordinary—or Not.)
Currently, we are living through a set of extraordinary circumstances. As a result, the trend towards extraordinary expectations for ourselves and others has only grown. We expect that we should do something memorable or important with this time. We expect that our political involvement or financial stability in this moment has massive long-term consequences, when in fact, we have no idea if they do.
In fact, I would argue that the average and mundane is important now, more than ever. Careful financial planning. Contact with family and friends. Volunteering to help others in need. Managing boredom and not doing something stupid like coughing in somebody’s mouth.
What the world needs right now is not a great savior, it needs billions of normal people doing small, ordinary, good things.
Remember: what gets attention is not always important. And what is important rarely gets attention. Trust each other. Support each other. Take care of yourself and others. And embrace the acceleration of change. Because, really, you have no choice.
See you next week,