Friday, January 9, 2015

Garbage – "Shut Your Mouth" (2001)

Just shut your mouth
If you can do it

(Sorry, but I can't.)

I recently came across this anonymous saying:

A child learns to talk in two years, but it takes sixty years for him to learn to keep his mouth shut.

I am sixty-two and a half, and living proof that Professor Anonymous's arithmetic was a little bit off.

Here's another anonymous saying:

When your mind quits working, don't forget to turn off the sound.

Let's turn now to the Bible:

Here's how Proverbs 21:23 is rendered by the King James Bible: "Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles."

If that's not plain enough for you, here's the same verse from the New Living Translation of the Bible: "Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble."

The French philosopher Pascal said, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."  (Actually, Pascal didn't know English – so he said all that in French.)

I second that emotion, boys and girls.  Right now I'm sitting in as room alone but I'm sure as hell not sitting quietly.

For one thing, I'm blasting our featured song, which was released in 2001 as the initial track on Garbage's third studio album, Beautiful Garbage.

Science has proved that Pascal was right: people do hate sitting quietly in a room alone.

An article on the American Association for the Advancement of Science's "EurekaAlert!" website described the results of a series of studies conducted by University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson and other scientists, who found that subjects didn't enjoy spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing to do but think: 

The period of time that Wilson and his colleagues asked participants to be alone with their thoughts ranged from six to 15 minutes.  Many of the first studies involved college student participants, most of whom reported that this "thinking period" wasn't very enjoyable and that it was hard to concentrate.

So Wilson conducted another study with participants from a broad selection of backgrounds, ranging in age from 18 to 77, and found essentially the same results.

"That was surprising – that even older people did not show any particular fondness for being alone thinking," Wilson said.

I'm not sure why Wilson thought older people are more capable of sitting quietly in a room alone.  I'm a lot older than I used to be, but I'm not sure I've learned a damn thing.  (To the contrary – I'm probably getting dumber as time passes.)

[Wilson] does not necessarily attribute this to the fast pace of modern society, or the prevalence of readily available electronic devices, such as smartphones. 

Quit blaming your damn smartphones for everything, people!  And modern society isn't any more fast-paced than it used to be.  (That's just an excuse!)

In his paper, Wilson notes that broad surveys have shown that people generally prefer not to disengage from the world, and, when they do, they do not particularly enjoy it.  Based on these surveys, Americans spent their time watching television, socializing or reading, and actually spent little or no time "relaxing or thinking."

Of course we don't!  "Relaxing" and "thinking" is BORING!  That's why I take a book or a magazine with me whenever I go to the little boys' room.  (If that's TMI, excuse me all to pieces!)

During several of Wilson's experiments, participants were asked to sit alone in an unadorned room at a laboratory with no cell phone, reading materials or writing implements, and to spend six to 15 minutes – depending on the study – entertaining themselves with their thoughts. 

What did he expect?  My thoughts are not entertaining, and neither are yours!

Most reported they found it difficult to concentrate and that their minds wandered, though nothing was competing for their attention.  On average the participants did not enjoy the experience.  A similar result was found in further studies when the participants were allowed to spend time alone with their thoughts in their homes.

"We found that about a third admitted that they had 'cheated' at home by engaging in some activity, such as listening to music or using a cell phone, or leaving their chair," Wilson said. "And they didn't enjoy this experience any more at home than at the lab."

Wilson needed to do a study to figure that out?  OF COURSE people cheated!  (I guarantee you I know how most males cheated, and it wasn't doing Sudoku.)

An additional experiment randomly assigned participants to spend time with their thoughts or the same amount of time doing an external activity, such as reading or listening to music, but not to communicate with others.  Those who did the external activities reported that they enjoyed themselves much more than those asked to just think, that they found it easier to concentrate and that their minds wandered less.

Yes, yes, YES!  The problem isn't being alone in a room – being alone is great!  The problem is just sitting there and doing nothing.

The researchers took their studies further.  Because most people prefer having something to do rather than just thinking, they then asked, "Would they rather do an unpleasant activity than no activity at all?"

(Now things are about to get interesting . . .)

The results show that many would.  Participants were given the same circumstances as most of the previous studies, with the added option of also administering a mild electric shock to themselves by pressing a button.

Twelve of 18 men in the study gave themselves at least one electric shock during the study's 15-minute "thinking" period.  By comparison, six of 24 females shocked themselves.  All of these participants had received a sample of the shock and reported that they would pay to avoid being shocked again.

(Are you surprised by those numbers?  I'm not.  People are crazy!)

"What is striking," the investigators write, "is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid."

Wilson and his team note that men tend to seek "sensations" more than women, which may explain why 67 percent of men self-administered shocks to the 25 percent of women who did.

Wilson's right about that.  In fact, as soon as I finish this post, I may seek some sensations myself.  After all, I am sitting in a room alone.

Here's "Shut Your Mouth" by Garbage.  (As my grandmother used to say, that's easier said than done.)

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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