I had some time to kill before going to a concert and thought: I’m going to go to Café Taza, my favorite coffee shop and I’ll sit there, sipping coffee and absorbing all the fun side banter. As I walked down the street towards the cafe, I came across a sign for a meditation class. “What the hell,” I thought, “Let’s do this.”
In the class, the teacher made us visualize walking into a forest. She had us look at the ground and see mushrooms and smell their earthy smell. She was triggering a state of mind without any physical objects. It was getting late and I realized I probably wouldn’t get to have my coffee. Then I realized that if this class could trigger the experience of going to a forest without actually going to a forest, maybe I didn’t need the coffee shop after all. Maybe the idea of coffee was enough.
Later that night, when I was at the concert, I got thirsty. I fantasized about going to the bar and getting a San Pellegrino. I thought of the cold fizzy water being poured from the green bottle, how refreshing it would be. The San Pellegrino company successfully made me want this specific type of water, just like the Café Taza coffee shop made me want the specific experience of having a cup of coffee there.
When I buy something from the internet, there is often an ecstatic feeling of anticipation before the thing comes to my house. I sometimes even visualize a cardboard box at my door and then get disappointed when it isn’t there. Then, after the thing comes, I get tired of it pretty quickly. The anticipation, the idea, is more exciting than the thing itself.
Alfred Hitchcock had a phrase: “The MacGuffin.” A MacGuffin was the thing that the actors wanted in a scene. It didn’t matter what the MacGuffin was, what mattered was that the actors wanted it. We go around life, chasing MacGuffins, chasing the ideas that we’ve built up in our heads. When we buy something, a lot of the time, we are buying an idea.
I think I’m going to open a bar called Storybar, to remind people of this. This bar won’t serve actual drinks, but for different amounts of money, the bartender will tell you stories which trigger states of minds similar to actually having that particular drink.
Timothy Leary believed that most of the time, people were trapped in games, which he defined as:
Behavioral sequences defined by roles, rules, rituals, goals, strategies, values, language, characteristic space-time locations and characteristic patterns of movement. Any behavior not having these nine features is non- game: this includes physiological reflexes, spontaneous play, and transcendent awareness.
I would add to this quote that actions that physically matter to other people (like surgery) or to the environment (like logging) are not games. But a lot of day-to-day human movements are just MacGuffin chases, games. So come to Storybar, order a drink, kick up your feet, and remember that a lot of life is just a game.