I’m struggling really hard to stay at my computer right now. I’m writing this on a Sunday night, and I currently have the option to write these words, or go downstairs and enjoy endless options of entertainment. I want to watch TV, but either through willpower or purpose, I’m choosing to write this article. I hope it is the latter reason. But still, it’s Sunday evening, I have to be at work by 9am tomorrow, it seems fairly reasonable to want to relax in front of TV.
Even in my own lifetime, beginning in the early eighties, I could not have imagined the world we live in now that provides a myriad of entertainment choices, on a portable device that follows us everywhere we go. Yes, we had television growing up, but that meant finding something you liked on the 4 channels available. If you didn’t, tough luck, you were out of options. You could of course play a video, a choice from the ten that would fit into the video cupboard, and after the fourth time of watching each of them, that no longer became an exciting option either.
Contrast that with today. I have the option of watching one of hundreds of channels available on my TV set. If nothing floats my boat, I can try from a mind-boggling number of films and TV programmes on demand, via either Sky, Virgin, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and many others I can’t think of right now. Failing all that, there is the great revolution of the last 25 years, the world wide web.
But despite all the avenues of entertainment the internet has provided these days, it’s easy to forget that we have also been given a world of education at our fingertips as well. Anything you want to learn, can be found on the internet. For a small fee, or even free, knowledge is easy to acquire. Yes, the standard of youtube is not always Ofsted approved level, but there can be no doubt that there is quality training and teaching available in an instant like never before. We now have The Great Courses, Udemy and Lynda.com, to name a few education platforms. So, we have a choice; do we want to educate ourselves or entertain ourselves?
Entertainment is incredibly important. We must have an outlet for rest and play, if we are to remain mentally healthy individuals. But the old Greek maxim ‘nothing in excess’ would apply here. We are entertaining ourselves, far more than we are educating ourselves. Until the middle part of the last century, entertainment was not easy to come by. It almost certainly required you to leave your home. Yes, you may have had a talented daughter who could bang out a tune on demand from the family piano (should you be rich enough to afford one), but for nearly everyone else, entertainment was something you had to go to. This meant of course there was far more time at home for reading and being social with your family. Now I’m not a golden age thinker, and firmly believe that we live in the greatest period of human history, but what we have now is not always comfortable for some, and that again is choice.
And why wouldn’t we choose entertainment? It’s easy and fun. And as one Ted speaker I heard the other day put it, easy and fun in the animal world means you are a great success. If you don’t have to worry about everyday survival, and have the time to relax and play, why would you do anything else? It’s a difficult thing to resist when our brains are hard wired to move towards it. The problem with entertainment though, is there is little growth potential there for the audience. It’s undeniable, that a great film, play or TV programme can help us learn and move us towards a different direction. When art collides with entertainment, the effect can be incredibly powerful. I would venture to say though, that the majority of film and TV produced these days does not lend itself to great personal growth. It’s mainly geared towards observing the trials and tribulations of other people, as they do something with their lives. What’s in it for most is a quick buzz of enjoyment, a shrug of the shoulders, and discussing it the next day with your work colleagues.
Lifelong learning is a very different and far lonelier world. Most of what you learn cannot be discussed with others, and creates very little interest anyway. Most people won’t even understand why you would spend your hours outside of work educating yourself. But even if you are learning just to get better at your job, knowledge is moving so fast these days, that it is one of the most precious commodities to have. If you are not learning, you are moving further and further behind. So, if we want to progress at our chosen vocation, then self-education becomes our new survival mode. The knowledge we are choosing not to learn, is being learned and digested by someone else. However, taking the idea of success away from lifelong learning, my other reason for choosing it over entertainment is I genuinely believe it is far more enjoyable!
Life is mysterious and for most people, a gift. We have the opportunity to make of this world whatever we set out to achieve. We spend our early years in education, and then for the most part, will work until a few years before our death, and that was your life. For many people like myself though, the education process never ends. And in that sense, the world I have keeps unfolding before me. The more my mind takes in, the more I love being part of this world and the more I love applying the knowledge I have learnt. It is really exciting to think what knowledge and skills I can learn and put into practice in future. This is one of the most joyous parts of life, improving yourself, and knowing that you are far more accomplished now, than you used to be. How that translates into success in the real world, will remain to be seen, but the joy of learning new skills and knowledge, is a great reason to adopt a lifelong learning habit in itself.
To give up all that enjoyment and opportunity that I believe a self-education provides, is not something I would trade for hours of entertainment per week. Yes, I have my cherished favourites from film and TV, and always put time aside a week for guilt-free entertainment on the TV. I love watching movies on a Friday night, and can get hooked on the latest must-see series just as easily as anyone. What I don’t do though, is allow entertainment to become the larger part of my life, it’s just not how I believe a worthwhile and rewarding life occurs. I choose to be a lifelong learner, and accept all the rewards and enjoyment that come with it.