Monthly Archives: November 2012

Why do I worry when there’s nothing to worry about?

When I was growing up the prevailing background worry that pervaded every day was the threat of nuclear annihilation should the era-defining permafrost of the Cold War ever stop being chilly and come, rapidly, to the boil.

If that happened we – we being the whole planet – would surely die. Some would die quickly, blown to smithereens by nuclear warheads each many times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan. They would be the lucky ones.

The rest of us would die from the radiation sickness that would be the inevitable fallout of all the fallout from the nuclear winter that would lead on to a nuclear spring where two-headed lambs would gambol but briefly before being set upon by the swarming hordes of mutant cockroaches who, allegedly immune to radiation, would inherit the earth.

As Frankie Goes To Hollywood so eloquently put it at the time, after they’d relaxed and not done it, ‘When two tribes go to war, a point is all you can score (score no more, score no more)’. Scary times indeed.

Thankfully the prevailing background worry that pervades every day today is a quite different calibre of concern. It’s this : is the mobile phone tariff I’m on really the best deal I  could get?

And that’s not the only thing I’m worrying about today. There’s also the anxiety that comes from the knowledge that when I last put the recycling out I didn’t sort it out as well as I should have.

Then there’s the stress inducing sight of a High Street both sides of which have been staked out by excessively cheery students, in cheap, charity-logoed bomber jackets who want to engage you in a conversation that will inevitably leave you feeling like an uncaring bastard because all you really wanted to do was walk down the High Street and do a bit of shopping but how could you even think about buying yourself anything, and especially not that cappuccino you’re holding that cost two quid, when there are small children with big eyes and sad faces, living rough on the streets of Caracas with no-one to care for them?

And back at home it’s not just the recycling that’s the problem. There’s also the dripping tap, the radiators that need bleeding, the down-lighter I can’t unscrew, and that indecipherable slab of god-knows-what in the third drawer down of the freezer that I swear has been in there since we moved into the house ten years ago.

I worry about it all.

In retrospect, life was so much simpler, and so much easier to cope with, when all I had to concern myself with was the impending destruction of the earth and everyone on it. Happy Days!

You see, back then it was patently obvious what to do in light of our ubiquitous existential threat. We marched. We marched against the government. We marched against the government and all that it stood for, and all that it did. That’s because, back then, we all knew that it was all the government’s fault. And we knew that marching was the way to get things done!

Unfortunately, today’s problems can’t be solved quite so simply. Marching against the government will not make it easier to change the bulb in the down-lighter whose cover I can’t unscrew. That, again unfortunately, is a problem that I’ll have to solve for myself. As are the tap, the radiators, and the mammoth in the freezer.

However, all this contemplation of the nature of worry has led me to a particular conclusion. A conclusion that resulted from me realising that I don’t worry any less, or indeed any more, than I did before. I just worry about different things.

And no matter how inane or inconsequential is the thing I’m worrying about, it seems to occupy the same amount of cerebral headspace as the threat of imminent oblivion back in my marching days. So my theory is this.

In the squishy, biological ipad that is the brain, there is a chunk of the squidge that solely concerns itself with worrying. And no matter what, precisely, you have to worry about, it fills this chunk completely. And beyond that, should your particular worries be resolved, the cerebral worry chunk abhoring a worry-vacuum like it it does, will immediately suck something else into itself and start worrying about that.

I think that when you come to examine this theory, and twist and turn it in your hands like an intellectual Rubiks Cube, you’ll soon realise that it fits all the facts.  And fits all your personal experience too.

It also means that when, all those years ago, Bobby McFerrin melodically suggested that we ‘Don’t worry, be happy’  he was pushing a philosophical approach to life that, whilst on the face of it was admirable, was in reality unachievable and hence could only lead to unhappiness, depression, and prolonged bouts of semi-comatose self-loathing whilst lying on the sofa all afternoon eating custard creams and watching back-to-back episodes of David Dickenson’s Real Deal.

So my conclusion is that when it comes to worrying, you might as well get used to it, as you’re never going to get rid of it.  Which, when you think about it, is in itself, a worrying thought.

Graham

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Technology is incredible.

Technology is incredible. I know this to be true because technology companies keep on telling me this. And they wouldn’t lie about stuff like that. I mean, what would be in it for them?

Walk down any street, open any magazine, watch anything on TV and before very long you’ll be beguiled by some carefully worded, beautifully photographed, digitally optimized, piece of communication that reassures you that the future is here and, guess what, it’s fabulous.

Now this has been going on for quite some time. So surely, by now, we should all be deliriously happy and living in a wonderful world?

But we’re not. I haven’t taken any representative poll on this, but to my sensibilities it appears that we have about the same level of happiness as we did before the boom in consumer technology, it’s just that we have a lot more gadgets.

And we have a lot more leads and chargers. What’s more, and it may just be me here, we even have quite a few leads and chargers for gadgets we no longer own.

Which isn’t to say that individual pieces of technology can’t make us happy. It’s just that the cumulative effect of all the bits of technology we possess doesn’t seem to have increased our overall level of happiness.

Maybe it’s because within any new bit of technology there are not only new possibilities, but also potential new problems.

For example, we had a high tech central heating boiler installed. Apparently its control panel has more computing power that the Apollo lunar module that landed on the moon. Which was great. Until it went wrong.

The engineer who came to fix it explained that when these marvels do go wrong they’re hard to repair because they’re so complex. And fixing it wasn’t a matter of getting out a bag of tools, it was one of getting out a laptop, getting online, then calling up the manufacturer to talk through a diagnosis.

The diagnosis, when it came, boiled down (as it were) to the manufacturer agreeing that something had, indeed, gone wrong. And while it could be any one of several problems, there was no way of telling which, so the best thing to do would be to either replace all the possible problem parts in one go, or to keep coming back to replace each in turn until the problem was solved.

At which point the engineer made the not unreasonable point that boilers were easier to fix when they didn’t have computers in them.

The principle being illustrated here is quite obvious. The more complex a thing becomes, the more marvelous are the things that it can do, but the more of a bugger it is to fix when it goes wrong.

And that, when you come to think about it, may be the problem with us human beings. Somewhere along the evolutionary cycle-path we just became way too complex. Had we settled for the level of consciousness and self-awareness of the chimpanzee wouldn’t we all be a lot happier?

As far as I’m aware the average chimpanzee’s existential angst extends no further than the next banana, some branches to shelter under, and the odd bit of mutual grooming. I sincerely doubt that any chimpanzee has ever lain awake at night worrying about the state of the economy, or whether it’s too late to start a pension, or whether their very existence is a meaningless farrago of missed opportunities, frustrated expectations and self-deluding relationships.

Admittedly no chimpanzee has created anything as wonderful as a Beethoven symphony, a Van Gogh painting, or a bacon sandwich on crusty white bread, but, let’s be honest here, they do seem to have a lot of fun.

All of which leads to the very sensible conclusion that we should all try and lead much simpler lives. Lives less cluttered up by gadgets, or worries.

And never, ever, install a central heating boiler in your home that’s cleverer than you are.

Graham