Novelty makes the world go ‘round
Humanity is fundamentally a novelty seeking species. We’re always driven to experience new and different things. We lose respect for the old experiences and constantly seek the next dose of experience. Even as we seem to frown on those that would be deviations from the norm, we seek the newest different thing to set ourselves apart. The former seems to be a facet of culture, the latter a matter of our biology.
Our nervous system, complex and sophisticated as it may be, has some interesting peculiarities. We have a tendency to become numb to sensations that persist indefinitely, while favoring those that are fleeting. This makes sense, from a functional standpoint, as a pressure against your wrist, like a watch, is less of an active threat that requires your attention than, say, a wild animal biting your other hand. This is definitely advantageous in our modern era of wearable technology (otherwise known as clothing), as it would start to get really annoying if you were constantly aware of your pants, all the time.
The precise mechanics of how our bodies can become numb to this feedback is not particularly relevant here (feel free to start here and go down the rabbit hole: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neural_adaptation#Habituation_vs_adaptation ). The aspect that I’d like to look at, mostly, is that it happens on a biological level, as well as a psychological level. From there, it seems to crop up in every area of humanity. Thrill seeking, adrenaline junkies, foodies, other subcultures that are denoted by suffixing them with “ies”, they all have this drive for novelty in common, as well as an underlying basis of uniformity. There’s still consistency within each group, despite their preference to be outlandish or deviant.
While we’re fond of experiential originality, we also have a defensive need for consistency and safety. We are often creatures of habit in the microcosm, as well as conformists in the macrocosm. Our identity is built upon fitting in with a group and surrendering a significant amount of our individuality in order to identify with a group. There is a comfort in belonging and a relaxation in being the same as other members of your clique. A sort of unchallenging peace that can be a welcome respite from the overly demanding world.
Our world, at least the experiential aspect of it (link appropriate article here. Wait, you mean I don’t have one on that yet? Well, I know what I’m writing about next time.) can be harsh. It can be overstimulating at times, or even downright painful (http://aeither.net/?p=3080), so it’s not hard to see the reasoning behind desensitization to these signals. The next level of direct sensory habituation or adaptation is the psychological aspect. Being able to disassociate yourself from the unpleasant stimulations of life and move on is key to being productive and happy.
One of the examples of this interesting dichotomy is the love/hate relationship that gamers have with long running franchises. Games like Call of Duty are examples where uniformity and standardization are obligatory to maintain the consistency of the experience. Sometimes, games like Final Fantasy can get away with greater deviation, so long as they can maintain the standard, expected tropes and not deviate too far. These are two examples on the continuum of familiarity vs novelty. The specific balance of these two attributes is yet another of the curious paradoxes of humanity.
As with the balance of instant gratification vs long term yield, Good and Evil, Vanilla and Chocolate, these are just some of the balances that make up identity of every human. We all have preferences of each, along those lines, and those make up a substantial part of our identities. The balance between Novelty and Comfort is just another aspect what makes us human.