Morpheus: This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
If you don’t live under a rock, (it’s cool if you do, rocks are awesome) chances are you are quite familiar with this quote. The Matrix was a pretty big blockbuster, and this quote became incredibly famous, but did you ever think about why?
We’re actually confronted with the red pill, blue pill (1 pill, 2 pill. Couldn’t help myself) decision all the time, it’s just not as surreal as Neo’s experience with the Matrix. Think about every time you are confronted with the choice between enjoying your favorite video game, book, or TV show and dealing with your own life. Whether you realize it or not, we’re constantly confronted with the choice between residing in our own reality and escaping in a fictitious one.
This is particularly true for brighter people. They tend to be people who need a lot more mental stimulation than the average person. This means there is a strong need for hobbies where you can spend hours upon hours in your own head thinking. Since bright people generally spend a lot of time in these hobbies, the jump from leisurely activity to full escapism is very small.
So, we like to choose the blue pill, but why? Well first, let’s look at what escapism is. Escapism is the act of choosing a distraction or alternate reality over your “real” reality (yes, we can fuss over what is reality and whether it’s real, but that’s another topic). Generally, we tend to embrace escapism when real life is unpleasant, and it is emotionally easier to be actively involved in something other than the current moment.
Escapism in some forms can actually be very healthy, and there can be many benefits to doing it. As mentioned before, many forms of escapism keep us mentally stimulated and engaged. For geeky people, this is more or less a basic emotional need. Geeks need to be mentally stimulated, they tend to wilt, struggle, and become depressed when not properly engaged. Engagement is also how we learn and develop many cool new skills.
In addition, escapist hobbies are a major source of community. When you think about it, probably some of the biggest interests that draw geeks together tend to be very escapist. We even have huge conventions just about the interests we use to pass time.
Escapism is also a healthy coping mechanism. If there is a situation where you literally can not do anything to change it, escapism is the healthiest response you can have to cope with the situation until it passes. When you escape you temporarily protect your emotional well-being.
Where escapism can go awry is when it’s overused. The reason for this is that when you are escaping, you are not a proactive participant in your own life. This means you are not there to address problems as they come up and over time problems can snowball in size, becoming more disasterous and more difficult to resolve.
Escapism can create a very vicious and negative spiral where you keep avoiding issues which makes issues worse which then makes you avoid even more. Eventually, the problem can get so big that you become terrified to even look away from your computer.
Naturally, overcoming the cycle that escapism creates can be incredibly challenging. In particular there are many different aspects of this cycle that are self-reinforcing. Dealing with this is something we’ll look at next week.