Cities, almost by definition, are unnaturally stressful for the human body and mind. Cities are centers for industry and entertainment. The largest quantity of jobs are in cities because that’s where the people are, and it takes more jobs to support people that work all those jobs.
This is how complexity works. A man with nothing has no need for complexity. When he acquires things, he needs somewhere to store things. So, he buys a box. When his boxes fill up with things, he buys a shelf to store his boxes. When his shelves are full, he gets a storage unit for more shelves, and then a warehouse. It takes time to go through shelves and storage units and warehouses to find what you want.
Stress occurs when you can’t get what you want. When you can’t find what you want, you become stressed. Other forms of stress happen when people don’t behave how you expect them to, which throws obstacles in the way of you getting what you want. Same with sitting in traffic – other cars interfere with what we want.
The man who has nothing, and lives far from everything, has no need for boxes, no need to sit in traffic, and no need for the complexity on which stress feeds. The man with nothing, and desires nothing, is free from stress. The poor beggar is not necessarily stress-free just because he doesn’t have things – which lead to stress. The beggar wants. He yearns for things, and therefore is stressed, because he doesn’t have what he wants. It’s the poor stoic that is free. Or, simply, the stoic.
Cities are the opposite of freeing. Cities introduce complexity to us and they introduce wanting. The beggar and the slick city playboy have this in common. They want. The beggar wants his next meal and the playboy wants his phone to be faster and the local transit to get him to his destination faster.
Living in the city, he can influence those things. Cities are the innovation hubs. Engineers are at work trying to make phones faster and trying to speed up transportation. While these engineering feats may allow us to solve problems faster, they still leave us wanting.
If we were told 20 years ago we would have cell phones with wireless internet access with pages that load in 5 seconds, we would be blown away. We wouldn’t fathom that 5 seconds would be slow and that we would need to make that faster. Yet, here we are, 20 years later. 15 years after dial-up internet and 10 years since wifi devices made their way into every home, and buffering is one of the ultimate evils.
A more complex phone doesn’t solve our problems any more than dial up internet did. We still want, just as much. We may want more, since we expect so much more. We expect delivery in 2 days instead of a month. We expect pages to load in 3 seconds instead of 20. Our technology has improved, but it hasn’t solved us. We still want.
Complexity doesn’t solve our problems. It masks our problem. Our problem is that we want things. Complexity sells us an image that’s worry free. Complexity – the boxes, the storage racks, the newest phone – they all promise us less worry without addressing the real problem.
The real problem is we want. Not wanting doesn’t sell. No one is incentivized to sell not wanting things.
It’s ironic that we are told the cure to complexity, and the cure to the stress caused by complexity, is to buy more things. It starts with a storage bin and ends with a city full of technology and industry that’s working hard to create more complexity.
The real cure to stress is to eliminate things by first eliminating the want of those things. This is a hard sell. It’s hard for two reasons. One, the more complexity we introduce in our lives, the more complexity seems to be the answer. I mean, if we have boxes full of things, we can’t just get rid of the boxes and have things laying all over the floor. That doesn’t make life easier.
We started this feedback loop of complexity and stress the day we wanted something and went out and got it. The only way out is to be content with what you have. That is easier when you have fewer things than when you have many, since, as we went over, more things require complexity to manage.
The second reason is that incentives are all out of whack. Apple sells us, through their advertisements, that we will be less stressed when we use their phones because they’re fast and easy to use. But we’re only using them to add to the number of things we own. Sure, we can get rid of the fax machine, camera, and book library. But we are still left with the problem of wanting. We want the phone to be faster. We want it to get us where we’re going faster than not only the physical map, but faster than the Waze app navigates. There is no “good enough” in advertising, and a lot of people get paid a lot of money to keep us thinking that way so we will continue to spend money.
If Apple told us we could reduce stress by throwing away our phones, a lot of people wouldn’t drive sports cars and have luxury yachts that all come with their own imperfections and maintenance costs. Imperfections and maintenance are complexities, and complexities are stress.
Escaping the city escapes the engineers building the latest digital shelf. Escaping the city escapes the dwellers that pay high rents that need engineering jobs to cover. Not that engineers are the bad guys. The human brain is at fault. The human brain wants more things. We see things as status symbols, which are sexy to the other sex. The marketing department sells us the image of success, and the engineers build it.
Cities are unnaturally stressful for the human body and mind. They add unnecessary complexity and disguise that complexity as the answer to complexity. We are all the culprits to blame. We choose to be the bad guy every time we desire something – every time we consume something. No thing will ever solve the ultimate problem.