Why Do We Find Anything Interesting At All?

             “What do you want to watch?” he asked.

            “I don’t know,” she replied.

            “Well, what are you interested in?”

            After a moment’s thought she said, “I’ve really been into ancient Egypt lately. We could watch a documentary about that.”

Do you think like this?

How many times have you said something similar - ‘I’m really into something at the moment.’?

As much as we’re creatures of habit, our tastes and interests sure do change a lot. There was a two month period last year when I was ‘really into’ watching YouTube videos about MREs and military ration packs and so I devoured video after video of people displaying, describing -and in some cases eating- historical ration packs from militaries around the world.

I asked myself then -and many times since- why on earth was my brain suddenly receptive to a subject I had hitherto and thereafter had little-to-no interest in? And, why was it just a couple of months before I lost interest?

So, I thought long and hard (or at least, middling and firm) about why we go through these cycles of interest or indeed why anything interests us at all. Want to know what I think? (Please say ‘yes’).

Why are we interested in anything?

I think it comes down, in part, to stories. We all love stories. Whether you like to read, watch movies or listen to music, what you’re really hungry for is a story. When I get into a cycle of watching ration pack videos, it’s not because the topic is of inherent interest (though, it is objectively interesting) – it’s because there are new stories to be enjoyed.

ration-book.jpg

When I watch Steve1989MREInfo’s YouTube video on a tinned British ration pack from the turn of the 20th century, I’m not interested in the sterile facts of the object itself; I’m interested in the stories it can tell me.

What kind of man carried that ration into battle? What ditch, wadi or fort was he stationed in when he thought about cracking it open and eating the contents inside? I like to imagine the factory it was made in, the hands of the woman who put it together and sealed it – not knowing it wouldn’t be opened for more than a hundred years.

It stands to reason then, that when kiwami japan’s knife-making videos on YouTube become absurdly popular, it’s also because of the story. Watching store-bought cooking foil become a bona fide, sharp-as-the-cold-heart-of-universe knife before our very eyes is a transformation story.

Is it all about stories?        

But, is the ‘story’ theory the be-all-and-end-all of why things interest us? Probably not. Let’s take the example of the much-maligned trainspotting or planespotting community. Their chosen interest is far from fickle and fleeting; it is a core passion and an undying interest for them. Is there much of a continuing story in finding and marking down various forms of rail or aviation transport? I say: no.

So, what it is then? I’ve often asked myself: What keeps trainspotters out in miserable weather, hoping to catch a glimpse of a hitherto unseen diesel locomotive from 1977? And so, I pondered for a while (I’ve got time on my hands, it’s fine; I know you worry).

Let me ask you something: do you feel that the Universe is a well-ordered and easy-to-understand place? What of our human existence within the vast, cold cosmos: do you think that is all manageable and logical? Of course not – the universe and world we inhabit is crazy and our time on this planet is confusing from the word ‘go’.

We all seek to simplify the world around us and seek order wherever we can. I think that the world of the trainspotter is ordered and sensible. The names and numbers of functioning machines are written down and crossed off once the relevant locomotive is spotted. Neat, tidy, ordered.

How should we approach our interests?          

Our interests may simply be a way of us saying ‘I don’t know much about the order of the cosmos and I may not understand my place in this world, but by God, Buddha, Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I do have a good grasp on ancient Egypt or trains or emergency ration packs or whatever it is that floats my wonderful, unique boat. If not that, then perhaps we’re just seeking refuge from the storm of existence in a simple story.

 Have I hit the nail on the head, do you think? Or, have I got it completely wrong? This is mere speculation after all…

If you have anything to add or detract from my argument, why not let me know in the comments below or send a pithy string of characters to the Speculation Station twitter account?