Should you clear a space for wonder?

I have a confession to make to the guys at NASA: when a photo of outer space comes up on my timeline, I keep scrolling. I’d like to be able to appreciate space photography, but I process it as pretty colours and unintelligible visual noise.
Sometimes I look at the caption, which tells me that life has been found on Mars, or a new planet has appeared, or at this very moment ten galaxies are all having sex with each other at the same time, or something. It is too big for me to process – even looking at the photos is perplexing and stressful – so I shrug and move on. Sorry, NASA.
Is this normal?
Maybe right now, other people are also scrolling past stars and thinking “This should be interesting. This is a fascinating thing people give up their entire lives to study. I just don’t have the brainspace in my day to feel wonder about this, so my only reaction is ‘Oh, that’s good. Keep on doing what you’re doing, faraway cluster of stars’.”
And maybe the reason I’ve been concerned about this is that everything has always been so strange and magical to me. So it’s odd that at the age of 22, I look at outer space – the Big Strange – and just think “Eh.”

I started writing this piece because I was worried. I felt like maybe I was becoming the stereotype of a jaded millennial – apathetically scrolling through information, detached from the outside world.
See, I don’t care for that stereotype. I know my generation is capable of as much wonder, empathy and hard work as any other. All the young people I know are deeply engaged with the world, and my generation has taken part in too many movements and revolutions to be called apathetic.
I think we get (wrongly) stereotyped this way because we’re exposed to huge amounts of information, to the extent where sometimes things lose their relative meaning. It’s just so… easy to get caught up in looking at a screen without really engaging, sometimes.
Whenever I go on Tumblr or Twitter, I scroll through a jumble of things: paintings, photos, Vines, stories. After a while, my brain starts to detach from the meaning of things. Everything becomes visual noise. Look at this view of Earth from space! Look at this dog! Look at this ice floe! Look! Look!
I’m strongly pro-internet. But I do worry sometimes, about the effect this has on my brain.
So I’d like to acknowledge that sometimes the internet is hard to process; sometimes it’s hard to fit all that information into a narrative, especially if you have ADD.
The internet can be a minefield for the ADD brain. The constant stimulus can be inspiring, but it can also plunge you into inertia, where you visit the same websites over and over, or keep scrolling mindlessly. Personally, I always open a tab for anything that looks interesting, then end up with twenty-seven tabs open.
For a while, I wondered if the solution to my overexposure was to clear some space, physically and mentally (“maybe if I had less tabs open…”). Then, maybe I could feel more wonder. To test it out, I took some time off Tumblr and immediately felt calmer.
But I still found that whenever I looked at photos of incredible things, I had the same feeling of ‘well, I should be impressed, but…’
Thankfully, a memory emerged: one that healed and clarified.
One night when I was five, we pulled over on a long car journey. I looked out the window, up into the sky, and pointed out a large, glittering star.
“That’s the Mir space station,” my mother said. She explained there were people up there, in a huge metal satellite orbiting the earth – so high up, it looked like a floating star.
That was something.
I guess the thing about wonder is that it thrives on surprise – on turning a corner and seeing the sea, or finding yourself face to face with someone very beautiful, or being unexpectedly told a star is a Russian space station. There’s no way you can make yourself feel it.
It’s like parents at Stonehenge, telling off their children for not being impressed. The more you tell yourself how wondrous something is, the more mundane it looks. That holds especially true if you’re overexposed to incredible things.
To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, humans are great at making wondrous things normal: the small, precarious planet we live on somehow became normal to us a long time ago. If you move to a house near the Pyramids, you’ll probably get used to the view from your bedroom window in a week or two.
Perhaps, then, the way to feel wonder is to be open to surprise.


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