Reversing Downward Spirals: My Cognitive Potato Chips

Posted on October 3, 2011 by


You give me a bag of Lays BBQ chips, I’ll give you an empty bag of Lays BBQ chips.

They once had a marketing line  “you can’t just stop with one”, something that circulates my mind each time I open a fresh bag, planning to eat “just a few.”

I eat that few.  I don’t feel so bad!  Chips aren’t that bad in small doses.

In the 4-5 seconds it takes me to ingest a handful of chips, I start thinking, “What the hell, I take a little more.”  Still I don’t feel so bad!  I run and bike anyway.  I grab yet another handful.

Within another 4-5 seconds, my hand reaches in for even more.  I promise myself I’ll stop this…right after I grab 3 more handfuls, and the bag is near half-empty.

Lays BBQ chips are something hard for me to stop consuming, just in the same way that it’s hard for me to stop “consuming” news about UCLA football, Chicago Bulls basketball, Chicago Bears football, FC Barcelona futbol when I’ve got a conference to present at, a proposal to fix up, and contacts to make — all this week.

Cognitive potato chips, micro-bits of information that I seek with help from the internetz, usually not immediately useful information either.  It’s not the type that really informs me about the state of the nation, would impact me if I didn’t seek it out, or would pay me immediately.

If it’s UCLA football, I’m looking  for opinions of current coach Rick Neuheisel — almost like I’m looking for something to disagree with and get mad at.  If it’s Chicago Bulls basketball, it’s when the lockout is going to end.  If it’s Chicago Bears football and FC Barcelona, it’s whether or not those teams won and if some transaction has been made.

And usually if in one of these categories of interest/addiction, there’s a mention of something interesting like a former player, I’m likely to Google that player, see whatever happened to that player.

And maybe that player reminds me of someone or something else, and I see what has happened to that someone or something else.

Sports news, and tidbits like Lays BBQ potato chips are something hard for me to stop consuming.

What to make of this?

I think that potato chips and sports news both benefit satiate some kind of  desire, but the fact that once I consume one bit of chips or news, immediately available are more chips or bits of news.  I fall into a trap where I think they’re each harmless and won’t take time, but it builds up and before you know it, a bag of chips is gone, and/or a chunk of work time has dissipated.

I think it’s all because it’s so easy to do, and the easy has its own continuity.  A smooth processing that functions like a mini-infrastructure to continue that continuity.

The answer?  Perhaps it lies in my colleague (heh heh, I wanted to sound big tyme, anything other than the symbolically ambiguous  “fellow grad student”), Sarah Jeffers’ suggestion to me in “going” Vegetarian, “take it one meal at a time.”

One meal at a time, I take to mean as “one single meal, isolated and disconnected to any strand of past or future meals.”  Keywords “isolated” and “disconnected.”  Isolating and disconnecting, meaning dealing with just the immediate meal before me.  Dealing with the one potato chip before me.  Dealing with the one bit of sports information before me.

I take just that one meal, that one potato chip, that one bit of sports information, consume it, and think a bit before the next meal, the next potato chip, or bit of sports information.

In essence, focusing on one thing at a time can disrupt the smooth processing that makes me and perhaps humans in general consume in quantities;  it  disrupts the infrastructure to my older habits and future habits.

Posted in: Metaphors