Image by Tilixia from Pixabay

KPS is not, and I say this with absolutely no slight intended, a brooding symphony of a novel. It’s a pop song. It’s meant to be light and catchy, with three minutes of hooks and choruses for you to sing along with, and then you’re done and you go on with your day, hopefully with a smile on your face. I had fun writing this, and I needed to have fun writing this. We all need a pop song from time to time, particularly after a stretch of darkness. —author’s note at the end of The Kaiju Preservation Society.

I love science fiction. However, I’ve always felt that the genre has an over-reliance on luck. We start with a huge problem that seems impossible. Protagonists end up conquering these. Sometimes it’s skill, sometimes it’s smarts. Plenty of times, it’s luck, circumstances or just a surprise, hidden ace.

I had this issue with The Martian, Project Hail Mary, Foundation Series to an extent and to a minor extent with Three Body Problem series. If I take a critical look, even Interstellar, one of my all-time favorite movies, suffers from this.

The Kaiju Preservation Society had this in spades. Like a pop song, things ramped up fast. That was enough to keep me hooked. I knew how things were going, I could see some twists coming. But the Marvel style jokes kept hitting, had me hooked and I kept reading on.

In short, I liked the book. At a time when I’m focusing more on non-fiction, it was entertaining and a good read.

Joy in Darkness

A week or so after finishing KPS, I got my Covid-19 vaccine. That made me exhausted the next day, along with a nasty headache. So I was lying in bed for half of the day.

In the evening, feeling a bit better, I cooked and wanted to watch something. I’ve been constantly watching either YouTube or Nebula for the past month. Naturally, these were my first instincts. I didn’t find anything immediately interesting on both of the services.

I opened Max and, on a whim, decided to give True Detective Night Country a chance. I like the series, and I’ve seen all three previous seasons. Not only that, I even liked the usually panned Season 2. 30 minutes into the episode 1, I realized that I had a weird emotion. I felt joy!

I immediately thought of when I had this reaction before. And that was a week back, watching Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. I didn’t notice it when watching the movie, but my tired brain made the connection during True Detective!

And that’s when I realized, it’s because I’ve been consuming what’s the junk food equivalent of video. YouTube is the McDonald’s of the internet. You can keep watching short rants and reviews the entire day and the supply will never end.

The unlimited supply works, it certainly keeps me hooked to the screen. In contract, True Detective is a nice meal at a Michelin Star Restaurant. You sit down, you wait, and you savor it.

This meal, even through the darkness, both thematic and literal, sparked joy in me.

Dopamine and Optimization

Back to reading, I’m currently reading two non-fiction books. First is Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke. Second, Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.

Dopamine Nation discusses that constant release of Dopamine gets us addicted. Looking at my recent YouTube usage, I am addicted.

Before my meals, I would just open YouTube and browse through. If I found something good, alright. Otherwise, I’d just refresh the page and look at other categories. Occasionally, I’d even have a YouTube window open on the side when I’m programming!

One of the solutions for addiction, according to Dopamine Nation, is dopamine fasting. I think I’ll try that by reducing the short videos. All those shorts and <2-minute videos on YouTube homepage are interesting and keep me scrolling, but they’re draining. Something with a story, something that makes me think, that’s much more rewarding!

On the other side, the central theme of Four Thousand Weeks is that we as humans have sucked the joy out of leisure by trying to optimize everything. Every moment needs to build towards something, or it feels wasteful!

All this does not imply that there’s no place for the pop song novels and junk food videos. But they are not the only options. The other end of the spectrum is not limiting our watching documentaries or drama shows while shunning all short videos.

In face, there are no implications here. This post is a long personal reminder to focus on joy.

It’s been a day since I saw that episode of True Detective. And I’m still thinking about it. It’s rare for me to think about YouTube videos 24 minutes later, let alone 24 hours! Amazing, thoughtful stories are what bring me joy. So I’ll watch more of these, but occasionally indulge in short videos.

Next time you’re watching something, just pause for a moment and consider if it’s bringing you joy.