Thursday Things: Caught in the Maze Edition
26 August 2021. Vol 3 No 34 By Dan McGirt.
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I enjoyed this short article about Classics Illustrated, the famous comic book adaptations of classic works of literature: 200 Comic Book Adaptations of Classic Novels Created (1941-1971): Frankenstein, Moby Dick, Hamlet & More
Superman debuted in 1938, Batman in 1939, and in 1941, the first issue of Classics Illustrated appeared — an adaptation of The Three Musketeers, followed by Ivanhoe and The Count of Monte Cristo. The series was founded by Russian-born publisher Albert Kanter, who immediately seized on the potential of comic books as educational tools during what is now known as the Golden Age of Comics
The Classics Illustrated concept has been updated and refreshed a few times in the decades since the original thirty year run from 1941-1971, but the old versions are classics in their own right.
“Remember, Hamlet — always be decisive!”
I read many of the original Classics Illustrated adaptations. My father saved a couple of huge boxes of the comic books he collected as a boy. They included, along with many Golden Age issues of Superman and Batman and lots of cowboy comics, a pretty good selection of Classics Illustrated. I loved climbing up to the attic to select an armload of them to read. Hamlet, Count of Monte Cristo, Moby Dick — I read them all! Are the comics a substitute for reading the original books? Well, when you’re 10 years old they are!
And if you enjoy the Golden Age of Comics, check out the Digital Comic Museum, where you can download thousands of old comics from days of yesteryear:
We are the best site for downloading FREE public domain Golden Age Comics. All files here have been researched by our staff and users to make sure they are copyright free and in the public domain. To start downloading just register an account and enjoy these great comic books. We do not charge per download and the goal of the project is to archive these comic books online and make them widely available.
The Joy of Disobeying Your Phone is a thoughtful essay on slipping the surly bonds of the algorithms that want to plan your routes, choose what you watch or read, and generally mediate your experience of the world.
After more than a decade of using smartphones, we have been conditioned to expect that we will always know where we are. When we lose that information, we feel as though the floor has dropped away. The aversion to such discomfort keeps us on the straight and narrow, unthinkingly obeying directions offered up by machines.
This part actually did not resonate with me at all. I don’t typically have any kind of navigation system active in my car. If I’m going to an unfamiliar destination, I plan my route ahead of time and jot down the directions in a notebook.
Do I use Google Maps sometimes? Sure. But I don’t really trust the disembodied voice of the “Google lady” — how does she know where I am? Is she some kind of evil spirit? How do I know she won’t direct me into a dead end in a graveyard? Again. Because that has happened. So I’m way ahead of the author of this piece in ignoring my phone. But what about you? Does your smartphone run your life?
This kind of de facto behavioral management applies pressure at so many points—the routes we are told to take, the videos we are led to watch, the books we're advised to read, the friends who are automatically kept informed, and much else—that our entire culture now operates within a set of velvet restraints. We hardly notice the many systems that work tirelessly to keep us well managed and—to whatever ends the relevant service provider deems—well behaved.
Aim to misbehave.1
Continuing this theme, here are more reasons to put down the smartphone more often and go off the grid like Sarah Connor dodging Skynet: Digital Addictions Are Drowning Us in Dopamine. Since this Wall Street Journal essay may be behind a paywall for you, I’ll summarize: All the likes, beeps, flashing lights, badges, points, and other “rewards” you get from interacting with apps and games on your smartphone and computer triggers your brain to release a hit of dopamine, which is the pleasure chemical that makes you feel good. Which sounds great, except:
Yet despite increased access to all of these feel-good drugs, we’re more miserable than ever before. Rates of depression, anxiety, physical pain and suicide are increasing all over the world, especially in rich nations. According to the World Happiness Report, which ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, Americans reported being less happy in 2018 than they were in 2008.
Well, that’s not good. Why is this happening? Because it turns out that: “As soon as dopamine is released, the brain adapts to it by reducing or “downregulating” the number of dopamine receptors that are stimulated. This causes the brain to level out by tipping to the side of pain, which is why pleasure is usually followed by a feeling of hangover or comedown.” So most of us do the logical thing — wait for the comedown feeling to pass, right?
Haha! No! We go right back to the apps for more hits of dopamine to feel better! More likes! More tweets! More replies! And that’s not good because “If we keep up this pattern for hours every day, over weeks or months, the brain’s set-point for pleasure changes. Now we need to keep playing games, not to feel pleasure but just to feel normal. As soon as we stop, we experience the universal symptoms of withdrawal from any addictive substance: anxiety, irritability, insomnia, dysphoria and mental preoccupation with using, otherwise known as craving.”
We turn ourselves into perpetually strung out, hungover, dopamine addicts going back to the phone again and again for another hit. So again, the advice is to put down the phone. But:
Reducing phone use is notoriously difficult, because at first it causes the brain’s pleasure-pain balance to tilt to the side of pain, making us feel restless and cranky. But if we can keep it up long enough, the benefits of a healthier dopamine balance are worth it. Our minds are less preoccupied with craving, we are more able to be present in the moment, and life’s little unexpected joys are rewarding again.
You know what you do can do instead? Read a great book. One of mine? Sure. But all the great classics of literature are there to immerse yourself in. And if the smartphone has so attenuated your attention span that reading a whole book seems to daunting — try the Classics Illustrated comic book version.
Thank you for reading Thursday Things. Please click the hearts2, comment, and use the share button to send this issue to a friend who might enjoy it. See you next Thursday!
Unless an algorithm brought you here to Thursday Things, in which case obey. The algorithm knows best and seeks only what is good for you.
I need the dopamine hit.