I've come across a striking term. It's called "escapism". Take a quick second to consider the compounding of the word "escape" with the suffix "ism". In etymology, adding the suffix -ism to the end of a word indicates that the term represents a specific practice, system, or philosophy. Using -ism also suggests that the word is related to a belief accepted as an authority by a group or school of thought. In other words, it is commonly associated with a distinctive practice, system, ideology, or movement. So, we're all familiar with the word "escape". On a day to day basis, we engage in behaviors that allow us to escape from many situations. We escape from doing tedious work by procrastinating and stalling with other activities. We escape tough conversations with people close to us by texting instead of speaking verbally. We escape death nearly every time we drive in a vehicle. And we even escape in little ways by putting off responsibilities, wasting time, and forgetting to be mindful.
Now, most people would mainly associate intimidation or dread when coming across the word "escape". From the many thriller films we've watched throughout the years to Dory reading off "ehs-cahp-eh" from the door inside of the submarine when trying to swim away from a determined great white shark in Finding Nemo, we typically partner the sense of anxiety with the act of escaping anything at all. So, why is that? It is remarkably peculiar that this simple word can induce such an intense sensation. I believe the presence of this effect allows it to fall within the category of other emotional trigger words such as surprise, fear, trust, anger, sadness, disgust, etc. Words that instill a particular emotion or set of feelings have a unique nature, and from what I gather, "escape" is even more thought-provoking.
In psychology, escapism is generally defined as a desire to avoid, ignore, or evade reality. Although this can manifest in an infinite amount of ways, the premise stays the same. It is the tendency to seek distraction and relieve oneself from unpleasant realities, especially by gravitating towards entertainment or engaging in fantasy. Anyone who reads this entry is aware of the technological revolution, increase in internet functionality, and the fact that billions of people on Earth are currently in daily possession of electronic devices. According to demographics of mobile device ownership, over a third of the planet has a cellular phone. Therefore, it is undeniable that the number of outlets available for engaging in more channels to "escape" increases exponentially. Escapism isn't intrinsically wrong, but it can be unhealthy in the long term. While it may be helpful to some people in the short term, things will digress over time. At some point, the "escapee" will have to face their issue.
There are many forms of escapism, but watching a movie or reading a book is not immoral. And daydreaming can actually be a beneficial exercise for the brain. Healthy forms of escapism allow you to step away from your negative emotions for a bit when you might be feeling overwhelmed, and then, you can come back to the problem with a refreshed state of mind. This healthy balance is a practice I try to be constantly aware of. We are told by advertisers, social media, creative industries, and propaganda that it is "normal" to engage in daily behaviors that might not actually be good for you. Most people are aware of what dopamine's role is within the brain, yet, there is a shortage of understanding that most escapism methods induce a significantly higher amount of dopamine release.
For example, studies show that alcohol causes the brain's reward system to release dopamine's motivational chemical. But over time, drinking depletes the amount of dopamine in your brain, causing you to crave more alcohol and laying the groundwork for potential addiction. Similarly, with video games, an experiment conducted in 1998 by the Scientific Journal indicates that the amount of dopamine released while playing video games is similar to what is seen after intravenous injection of stimulant drugs like amphetamine or methylphenidate. Once a person is routinely adjusted to perform behaviors that activate a profound dispensation of dopamine, it can be tough to retract and still feel pleased. In a way, just as drug addicts must "viral off" of their substance in order to return to a sober position, individuals who charter tremendous amounts of escapism interests may find themselves in a position in which they'll have to viral off some point in the future in order to be mentally durable.
I know what you're thinking, "well, it depends..", and yes, you're right. All humans are created differently, and our brains have varying neurotransmitter responses. But still, there is a fine line between healthy versus unhealthy amounts of escapism, and each person must work towards identifying what that is and routinely practice managing it. Hobbies of reading books, creating art, playing sports, and learning new skills also produce instantaneous dopamine release responses; however, they might not be as enthralling as synthetic substances, technology, or watching pornography every night before bed. It's up to each of us to internalize the obvious moral contrast between "healthy" hobbies and "unhealthy" hobbies because the media, popular culture, and propaganda will never cease to advertise the bad stuff to us. Sometimes it's tough to go against the flock, but mental health is nothing short of a top priority.
Here are a few questions I have:
- Why is it that people gravitate towards engaging in behaviors that put one's health or well-being at risk? Do they chase the adrenaline or have a desire for challenge or competition?
- Some may say that the definition of escapism is subjective to the person. Is this because they feel that everyone's mental state is built differently?
- I mentioned that reading books or watching a movie every now and then isn't intrinsically wrong and isn't considered "escapism" per se, but could they turn into unhealthy escapism if overly-exaggerated?
- When thinking about the potential goods that come from escapism (especially for people battling severe mental disorders like PTSD, Schizophrenia, or Chronic Anxiety), can it be a positive outlet in times of need? What defines an objective time of need?
- Is pop-culture encouraging TOO much escapism? Where do we draw the line?
- Is American culture overly glamorizing of escapist behaviors and down-playing of healthy behaviors and/or wholesomeness?
- How much escapism is too much escapism? Does it really just depend on the person?
- What if what you do for work includes escapism? Does that make it bad for you? Could we call it non-escapism?
I have a severe concern for America's first-world popular culture trends and their adverse effects on younger generations. Throughout each decade in the 1900s and 2000s, humans have been continuously introduced to newer technology forms. And before the advancements that allowed for personal tech devices, most people had regular exposure to books, night-life, substances, and "normal" things. Although, the rates of mental health disorders, depression, suicide, and insecurity were much lower. In 1969, the internet was established. In 1979, people were able to acquire their first personal stereo. In the 80s, people began learning about computer systems as they purchased them for their homes. And now, in the 2000s, it's rare to go somewhere that doesn't have one. Even more so, most of us carry one in our pockets.
I map out this timeline, hoping that it can be easier to understand the alarming rate at which we went from zero to a hundred in the tech space. I'm not totally sure that we have been evolving as fast as our innovative technology. Don't get me wrong; I absolutely love the beauties and efficiencies that tech advancements are providing us; however, when it comes to escapism methods and people abusing them for unhealthy activities, I raise a red flag. Here are a few stats that absolutely terrify me: 8 to 10-year-old children spend an average of 8 hours absorbing media each day, and teenagers average 11 hours or more. By their early 20s, the typical person will have spent more than 30,000 hours on the internet or playing video games (that's roughly four full years of their young lives). And from the 22 minutes the average person spends daydreaming each day, to books, films, and TV we get lost in, a new survey tallied the everyday activities and methods people use to get away from reality, finding that we each rack up just under 20 hours of pure escapism each week.
Substance abuse, especially with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and pain killers, is nothing to joke around with. I have spent a lot of time around 20-year-olds and teenagers who recklessly ingest substances without any care whatsoever for their health or well-being. I've lost quite a few friends and family members to it as well, which is an outcome I would never wish upon anyone, ever. Young people are more likely to try new things in their early years due to their justification of "being young and healthy". Although, this is a dangerous mindset to possess because it often turns into an addiction of which the affected individual likely loses control of reversing. Many pop-culture and entertainment areas glorify the lifestyle of "living-wild", staying up late, partying with friends, and trying substances. Every adult within the Millennial or Gen-Z generations grew up watching some of the best television shows and movies featuring every single one of these pursuits.
In addition, nearly the entire rap industry and Hollywood "lifestyle" glamorizes the goals of making lots of money, having frivolous sex, partying 24/7, and having no care in the world. I believe this has had a ferociously negative impact on our culture. And I don't even want to know what's going to happen to the younger generations. I mean, babies are nearly born out of the womb holding an iPad and wearing AirPods nowadays; and by the time they're a toddler, they're already learning how to twerk for TikTok dance videos. Shame on the parents who let their young children abuse technological devices for these harmful purposes. It is adults' jobs to recognize where improvement and regulation need to be imposed because adolescents' brains are not fully developed until they are around 25 years old.
To the tech giants, video game creators, and drug dealers, please create your products according to the realistic notion that young people will inevitably be exposed one way to them or another. A simple "adults only" warning doesn't stop all kids from clicking on a unique looking pornographic video clip or a suicide video that pops up on their YouTube Recommended page. The internet is an inexplicable universe where virtually anything can happen at this point. We need to stay invariably aware of that.
My top two escapism weaknesses are binge-watching YouTube videos and doom-scrolling through Twitter. I'm confident in my vulnerability to admit that, and it feels good to explain how I fit within the puzzle as well. Granted, there are unhealthier escapism channels, but I mindfully try to keep a healthy balance with them as much as possible. For me, watching informative and educational videos on YouTube is a productive pastime. That is how I have always rationalized it and probably will for a little while. Similarly, the political and economic chaos that has been widespread across the United States in recent months has propelled me to desire knowledge for every little current event that is going on, which explains my compulsion to stay up to speed using Twitter.
Although I engage in other dopamine-dumping activities every now and then, such as going out with my friends and having a few drinks, the two highly-addictive social media platforms of YouTube and Twitter are my kryptonite sometimes. Tech giants know precisely how to keep the human brain reeled into the constant stream of content. As showcased in further detail by the fantastic documentary released by Netflix titled "The Social Dilemma", big tech has gotten really damn good at it. How do we uproot and shift our entire culture to prioritize a completely different set of hobbies, healthcare habits, and entertainment methods? It'll take all of us having to be on the same page about it. That's the only way. But, there is a zero-percent possibility of success. That's a reality we are all going to have to come to terms with.
The reality is that all of these insanely addictive, enticing, sexy, glamorous, captivating, and enslaving forms of escapism will always be around us. But we'll just have to keep on living, thriving, being responsible for ourselves and the world around us, and adjust accordingly. Truthfully, I'd argue that it is much more difficult to refrain from temptation in our present time than in any other previous span of years. Things are just too easy. Access to escapism outlets is quicker than melting butter in a microwave. Never before have we existed in such a society where this enormous amount of technology is all-encompassing, omnipresent, and virtually everywhere. And it'll only expand in the future. If we could learn and adapt competent methods to maintain some sort of balance alongside our continued innovation, that would be a world I'd have so much respect for.
In conclusion, I am fascinated by my newly discovered concept of "escapism". Topics that are multi-dimensional by neither exhibiting a total good or complete evil are excellent candidates for further dissection because there is so much to unravel. The elements of mental health, emotions, smartphones, drugs, tech creators, mindfulness, and responsibility are the most fundamental subsidiaries of this topic. In no way am I encouraging people to live a dull existence by never having any fun at all, so please do not think that. Everything is a balance, and balance doesn't occur out of thin air. A person, group, or force, in some form, must work to put an action in balance. That is an objective scientific truth. Therefore, when analyzing your life, hobbies, and escapism interests, really zone in on what could be practically retracted and what healthier forms could replace it. From the wise words of one of the most well-renowned psychologists, Jordan B. Peterson:
"To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order." - Dr. Jordan B. Peterson