Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The First Rumblings

I got the idea to do something, not necessarily this blog, but something nonetheless, when I was walking into a mid-sized organic market near my house. The purse I was wearing was full of library books and there was a new sign on the sliding doors: We Appreciate Your Efforts In Bringing Your Own Bags!

The sign was no doubt meant to induce a mild infusion of environmentalist shame in those who so carelessly expected disposable bags to be provided. But when I looked at it, all I felt was wishy-washy politeness, a sign taking a position without sacrificing its friendliness. Bring your own bags if you want, it seemed to say, I mean, we'd appreciate it, we're totally for recycling and cutting down on wastefulness and all that kind of stuff. But if you don't, that's totally cool. We have plastic bags ready for you. Paper, too! We've got them if you need them, so don't feel the need to, like, go out of your way to change.

Since I have no training in the type of psychology that researches this kind of thing, I don't know if my gut feeling was true, but my gut feeling was that this sign, and others with that kind of message, wouldn't work. They wouldn't compel people to start bringing their own reuseable bags. They wouldn't force people to think about the effect of endless plastic bags on the environment. And they especially wouldn't make bringing reusable bags a widespread, effortless habit, something every member of the organic grocery shopping population just does, without thinking about it. They wouldn't turn those people who still insisted on being handed unlimited free plastic bags with their purchases into social pariahs.

So what would do all those things? That's what this blog was created to figure out. Not just what would make people start using reusable bags. (I think that needs to be made clear at this point; this is not about to be a blog about raising awareness about the importance of reusable bags - that would be crazy, and also about as useful as that sign in the organic market.) What is needed for a single person to stop a lifelong habit of nail biting? Not just stopping the actual biting, but stopping the desire to bite, until not biting is just as easy as biting ever was? What is needed for a whole population to start believing that driving a car is not an innate privilege, and to consider the actual consequences? And after the consequences have been considered, what is needed for the population to decide that biking, walking, bussing, should be and are now the norms?

There's a big gap between believing and knowing, and then an even bigger one between knowing and acting. Those gaps are big enough for me to consider them disconnects. Embarrassing, yet telling examples from my own life include:

-Understanding the ridiculousness of recyclables going into landfills to sit and rot for all eternity or similar (I realize that's a ridiculous oversimplication), but still tossing paper and plastic into the trash fairly regularly because I don't feel like sorting them out, finding separate containers, or really, just bothering to do it. I know that that simple type of recycling is something even people who eat shark fin soup for dinner, wear fur stoles, and smoke cigarettes occasionally do - and it gives me an incredible guilt complex that I don't - but I can't, or won't, tumble over that pathetic invisible hurdle to actually move from understanding it to doing it.

- Understanding that staying in and surfing the web aimlessly and watching terrible YouTube videos makes me feel sick to my stomach and intellectually stunted, but often doing it anyway. On the other side of it, understanding that writing music and singing and exercising and other such sunny, creative, wholesome activities all make me feel free and happy and excited... but instead choosing to watch terrible YouTube videos. It is easier to do the thing that makes me feel sick. Why is that? Why are my habits (and most people's habits) naturally centered around things that aren't good for them? Why is it so easy to do things that aren't good for you? What's so damn easy about surfing the web aimlessly that isn't easy about writing a rant like this?


1. Plain old habit. When technology comes out with something undeniably awesome, like the ability to watch TV shows for free whenever it's convenient, or search for endless videos of cute cats, or, well, look up free information on any topic that strikes your particular fancy at the moment (a treatise on the history and application of elevators? Look no further. Want to see what happens when anyone can edit an article about a controversial political figure? Voila! Despairing about your job and how awful it is? Find gruesome relief.) you'll become quickly fascinated and spend hours lost in it. Before long, it will be hard to remember the days when you had to go to the library to read an essay on particle physics, or actually be at home when your favorite show was on, or shuffle through heavy, often irrelevant old dusty books to write a research paper. Once you're used to finding everything on the internet, you spend your time, um, finding everything on the internet. The internet is easy, convenient, and has now wormed its way into your comfort zone, and as we know, there is no worse place for something dangerous to settle than your comfort zone.

2. Jadedness.

Is 'jadedness' a word? Oh well, someone knows. It's probably listed, or unlisted, in a thousand different online dictionaries. Someone else will look it up. Well, I could look it up. Hmm, it is. Looks like someone already did the research to find out. Why should I bother working out the grammar rules to figure out if jaded can be suffixed with -ness, if I can just click twice and find out? Oh, hey, is 'suffixed' a word? Doesn't matter. Everyone's constantly introducing new words into modern parlance. I could do it, but someone probably already has, so why bother? Oh, but wait! I could write about about how words come to be added to the dictionary! That'd be interesting... oh, shit.  That's totally been done.  Well, here's my keyboard... I could improvise music like I used to do when I was little. But every time I do it it becomes painfully obvious that people who have been practicing diligently their whole lives are way better than I will ever be. So why bother even doing it, if it'll be painful to listen to myself do it?

May as well just read and enjoy the things that have been written. May as well just listen and enjoy the things that have been created.


On that note, hey! I have an idea. How about I dedicate a bunch of time to researching and writing a blog or book about the moment at which population customs change and a trend becomes a habit? I saw this sign at the food market and it totally made me think and stuff!

Nobody's done that, right? Nobody's written a national bestseller about that already... RIGHT?

Okay, I read this book before I started this blog. I started this blog even though the book is similar, even though the inclination to give up because someone's already done it was strong. My aims are a little different - I want to focus on each individual's personal tipping point, because I don't believe everyone's is the same - but I admit that there is a similar treatise out there already.

However, this treatise didn't answer all of my sometimes burning, sometimes dormant questions. I feel like it's up to me to go in search of answers myself, despite the real possibility that there is endless research like my own splashed all over the internet already. I feel like it's up to me to organize all of it in a cohesive manner and find my own answers. And that is an odd feeling, because it's a total change from the way I normally look at things (the normal way I look at things is depressingly similar to #2 above).

Whether this change proves to be a permanent, habit-forming tip in my behaviour or not remains to be seen. And I feel foolishly meta for pointing this out, but the existence of this blog about strategies for change and characteristics of change depends wholly on my own personal ability to change, which is both entertaining and hazardous given my history. Most people's history, I would assume.

Suggestions, links, ideas, and dialogue will help us all along.


Dan R said...

Seems like you answered your own question in your answer to why you created this blog... ?

Hannah said...

Which question? I asked so very, very many... :)