I’ll set the scene. It’s midweek, you’re slightly tipsy on another Hinge date and too far from home when the dreaded question comes: "So, what do you do for fun?"
Akin to "What kind of music are you into?" or "Have you thought about investing in crypto?", few questions make me mentally unplug as quickly. It’s an enquiry I’ve been subject to more than once and every time it seems to set me up for failure. I've found that unless you're able to reel off a Duke of Edinburgh-worthy list of activities, you’re deemed uninteresting and unfulfilled.
The thing is, I don’t want to be more interesting. If I’m honest, I’ve got enough on my plate. If anything I’d like to do nothing, have fewer thoughts, really embrace the No Thoughts Era.
According to knowyourmeme.com, the 'No Thoughts' phenomenon began with a stock image of Cosmo, everyone’s favourite vacant-eyed fairy from the Nickelodeon cartoon The Fairly OddParents, which aired from 2001 to 2017.
Rather than signalling a desire to return to the simpler days of after-school cartoons, this celebration of numbness seems an obvious reaction to the frightening state of global affairs.
We're all so keen to criticise autopilot but there's comfort in the automatic and it's time we had a little faith in letting life simply unfold.
Given the unpredictable nature of the past few years, it’s hardly surprising that we’re all looking for a little peace and quiet. In an article for owlcation.com, trauma counsellor Janis Leslie Evans explains that "mind blanking is a full-on fight-or-flight response" and while my life is far from taxing, we can’t overlook the toll that recent Unprecedented Times have taken on our collective psyche. We’re consuming more content than we were ever intended to and certainly more than we’re able to comprehend. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep we’re met with a barrage of overwhelming stimuli. It may be extreme but completely shutting off seems like a necessary and accessible antidote to the incessant electronic hum of 21st-century life. As internet culture professor Ryan Milner said to Wired: "We have to know who the acting undersecretary of transportation is at any given time. It makes sense we have humour that offers this appealing take on putting your head in the sand."
As the world keeps force-feeding us more, more, more, it’s unlikely that I’m alone in looking for less, less, less. I can’t be the only one who doesn’t want yet another celeb-based distraction or holistic remedy for our societal malaise. I’ve tried every wellness alternative claiming to save us from ourselves: journalling, mindfulness, hours of therapy. The only thing which seemed to strike a chord was meditation, which focused not on adding more to our days but on embracing things as they are, existing without overanalysing. The same desire for mellow disengagement can be found in other 'movements' too, whether it’s cottagecore or bimbofication. A desire to zone out just wearing a different outfit.
A quick Google of 'head empty?!' is far from reassuring. Rather than leading you to forums of like-minded smooth brain supporters, up pops a deluge of listicles with titles like "10 Ways To Combat Feelings Of Nothingness". While I’m advocating for some disconnection, this is not to be confused with dissociation: a deeply distressing condition and a far cry from the pleasant and, more importantly, voluntary detachment I’m talking about. In taking agency of your empty brain, you’re making a choice not to notice, a purposeful decision to switch off to external stimuli without being submerged by the internal chatter. In 2022 this sounds like an admirable but near impossible endeavour. The closest I got was when a man on a moped yanked my phone out of my hand, forcing me to log off for a few days. After the initial panic died down, it was pretty peaceful. My finger wasn’t constantly on the pulse of meme culture; I wasn’t drowning in Instagram stories of people I met once at a party.
Far from leaving us all adrift, without this constant connection we can resort to our instincts. We’re all so keen to criticise autopilot but there’s comfort in the automatic and it’s time we had a little faith in letting life simply unfold. I wake up, I work out, I wait for my next task without contemplating the outcome – it just happens and I’m happy. I don’t want to overthink everything and dissect the minutiae of my life. Hustle culture has had its day and there’s comfort in the nine-to-five. I’m not striving for something extraordinary and we shouldn’t be made to feel that we have to. It shouldn’t be taboo to chase the middle ground, to strive to be at peace in your physical form rather than exist between the elated highs and crippling lows. While I’m no better than anyone else, perceiving myself through my selfie camera and thinking at a million miles a minute, when it comes to opting in versus opting out, I’d go for out every time.