The “Definition of Insanity” is Wrong

Everyone knows The Definition of Insanity:

“Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

It’s a compelling aphorism, and it describes one type of insanity — but not the worst type of insanity.

The Definition is actually more descriptive of “misguided optimism” than of “insanity.”

For instance, the early-stage compulsive gambler is convinced he will magically beat the odds because he is somehow special.  He continues along his ruinous, losing road because of a surprisingly rational belief: “Because I am special, therefore I will win.”

This belief, genuinely held, is not so much insane as badly misinformed.

On the other hand, true, mad, deep, ugly insanity is being utterly and completely aware of the negative/harmful consequences of an action … and then continuing to repeat that action over and over again.   With no expectation of a different result.

The terminal-stage compulsive gambler is fully and painfully aware he will lose. But he behaves no differently than his blissfully-ignorant counterpart.  The un-self-aware and hopeful gambler is farcically rational, while the clear-eyed and hopeless gambler is tragically irrational.

In the Greek sense of the word.

The typical cigarette smoker would seem to be a hybrid of the two gamblers above.  No smoker today is unaware of the suicidal health risks of cigarettes, and yet she will light up ten, fifteen, twenty cigarettes per day, or maybe just the occasional butt during happy hour or on the weekends.  On one level, there must be a misguided belief that she is special; on another level, there’s an addiction/compulsive behavior that she knows is terrible and wants to stop, but cannot.

What does this have to do with digital detachment?

Personally, I know my consumption of digital media and technology is counterproductive at best and soul-draining at worst.  And yet I don’t even know how often I checked my email yesterday because the number of checks was surely over fifty.

In short, my attitude toward my digital consumption is like that of a 2015 late-stage smoking addict.

Greek tragically insane.

I think about half the rest of the world are more like casual 1970s smokers.  (We’re seeing some studies screen-tethering is bad for you, and that seems right, but oh well lets light up that last Facebook feed check of the evening.)

And the other half are 1950s smokers, tablets aglow in bed, watching reality Hulu with all the unreflective ignorance of a housewife reaching for that Doctor-approved Marlboro instead of a fattening sweet.

Digital detachment is my goal.


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