Monday, June 28, 2010

The soporific screen

I don’t know what it is, but these days I find it almost impossible to watch an entire movie without – quite literally - falling asleep. Whether I’m in the cinema or at home, I can’t make it all the way through. Sometimes I can’t even get through a single episode of a TV show. It’s becoming really annoying.

I don’t think it’s just tiredness, though that certainly doesn’t help. I find myself dozing off in matinees or when watching something late afternoon or early evening. It’s certainly not boredom – I end up dozing through the end of films I’m really enjoying. It’s not that I can’t concentrate for two straight hours – I can read a book or play a game all day without dropping off, but half an hour after a movie starts, I start to feel sleep creeping up on me.

I thought for a while it was a reaction to darkness. Dave & Darien both prefer to watch movies with the lights off, so I tried insisting that we leave the lights up. That certainly made things better, and now I can usually get most of the way through a movie or into the second episode of TV before drifting away. I tried changing my posture, and that makes a difference too. If I’m lazing on a couch with my feet up, I tend to crash out fairly rapidly. Sitting upright in an armchair or sitting on the floor helps. However, neither of those is sufficient.

I was fascinated to read in Wired this week how using the Internet is changing the way our brains process information. We’re becoming more and more adept at skimming, at multi-tasking, and at dealing with rapidly changing data sources. After working in machinima for seven years, I now find myself thinking of a ten-minute movie as a long piece, and am getting more and more used to two-minute movies. Watching a full-length feature is rather like trying to listen to an opera or a symphony after being immersed in a culture of three-minute pop songs and advertising jingles.

There was a time when I would sit in a chair or lie on the floor and just listen to an hour-long symphony. Nowadays I’d want something else to do with my hands and eyes while I was listening, and would probably be getting restless after the first movement. When I listen to music now, I’m usually cooking, reading, web-surfing, chatting online, working, or doing housework. (Or, more likely, several of these at once.) I’d probably stay awake through movies if I treated them as background in the same way.

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that watching a movie is completely passive and non-interactive. With a book, at least I’m turning the pages, I control the pace at which I read, I can easily skip back a few pages, and I can get up, make coffee, and read anywhere. I'm imagining the scene, turning words into mental images and sounds. With a movie, I’m completely captive. It demands my attention, but requires that I do absolutely nothing else and gives me everything I need to see and hear. As a result, when I watch a movie, it’s as if my brain is saying to me as soon as I relax, “nope, nothing to do here, Matt, might as well go into stand-by mode”.

Strangely, I can sit by the shore of a lake, in a forest clearing, on a beach, or on top of a hill, and just sit, silently, thinking or meditating for hours without going to sleep. By contrast, I can lie in bed in the darkness for hours, and my brain races insanely, no matter how tired I am. My preferred insomnia cure is to get up, put on a movie, and fall asleep on the couch.

It's perplexing. And, as I said, annoying.


BiggsTrek said...

Hate to throw this at you, but have you considered this is just part of getting old? (That's my excuse for everything these days... lol)

Armanus said...

Funny, I was about to say the same thing lol
Going through the same issue Matt...not really sure what the cure is.