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The value of novelty

| Friday, February 24, 2017

“Humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops as tight and as closed as the hosts do.” This bold statement, made by Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) in HBO’s latest show-turned-cultural phenomenon, “Westworld,” refers to how free-willed humans live lives just as constrained as the programmed robots on the show do. I resisted this idea at first, but reflection on my own patterns in life showed that the claim had some validity. While I wouldn’t put it in such nihilistic or absolute terms as Dr. Ford, people really do slip into defined loops out of ease and comfort.

In a large part, these routines make day-to-day life easier. I wake up at the same time throughout the week, go to the same classes and eat my meals at similar times. These repeated actions provide structure to my life; they give me a sense of organization and foresight for what the day has in store. Thus, I enjoy my “loop”— but it is not without its drawbacks.

I believe that this comfort brought by having a relatively defined routine makes it harder to seek out new experiences. People like to stick with the familiar, even if something new could offer more benefits, or a better time. While this craving of normality affects all areas of one’s life, I’ll make my point with an example most college students can relate to — going out at night. If a friend tells me they are going out, it’s not hard to guess where simply based on what night of the week it is. On one hand, this is a symptom of the fact that South Bend is not exactly the most “happening” town in America, but it also reveals a certain aversion to novel experience. This problem is most evident on Thursday nights at Notre Dame. Even people who consistently deride the quality of everyone’s favorite Thursday night watering hole will often be found waiting in line, three dollars in hand. When I ask them why they return, I usually get the same answer — “Because there is nothing else to do.” I sympathize with the feeling, but condemn the lack of effort to at least try something different.

I recently managed to stray from my “loop” by going to a concert (Run The Jewels) in Chicago on a Friday night with a few of my friends. I skipped my organic chemistry class, hopped on the South Shore Line and away I was to the land of delicious pizza that’s actually a casserole. The concert was one of the best I have ever been to, but even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t regret the trip for a second. There is a refreshing nature to doing something new that is hard to pin down. Even the would-be banal parts of the trip, such as just sitting in the hotel room talking, had a breath of fresh air instilled into them.

Having routine isn’t a bad thing. The structure that it provides is certainly comforting and makes day to day life easier. Sometimes, though, you just gotta shake things up.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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