Written by Bill Leebens

You’ve probably already figured this out, but I am innately distrustful of fads, buzzwords, and whatevers du jour. I never read a book while it’s on the NYT bestsellers list. If it still holds up after a couple years, maybe I’ll read it then. But not while it’s on that damn list.

One of the buzzwords I distrust is “immersive”. Yes, I’ve used it myself, describing how better audio gear makes for “a more immersive listening experience”—and it’s true, it does indeed. But at the same time: what the hell?

Going back a ways to my Memphis years, the only time I heard the term “immersive” was in reference to baptism—the dunkers versus the sprinklers. If you don’t know what that means, that’s just fine; in fact, count yourself as lucky. But just imagine a swimming pool: when you plop yourself into it, you are immersed in the water—right? Submerged, enclosed, enveloped, covered up. Immersed.

Usage of “immersive” and “immersion” these days is  mostly figurative, meaning to become deeply involved in something: that whole “immersive experience” thing. I guess that’s in contrast to…the lack of engagement that marks everyday life?

See, that’s the part I find disturbing. It says to me that our daily lives are spent in superficial non-involvement with everyone and everything we encounter. Given that the people I meet can barely tear themselves away from their phone screens to acknowledge my presence, much less actually engage in a conversation with me, I would agree that such seems to be the case. That makes me sad, and it pisses me off.

We skate along through life like the puck in an air hockey game, gliding above everything, assiduously avoiding any contact, either  physical or emotional. Anything beyond a carefully-timed handshake is battery, and any too-personal question or comment is assault. God help you if you look someone in the eye for more than a couple seconds.

Are we that fragile? Honestly? I don’t think so.

Another buzzword that has paralleled the rise of “immersion” is “passion”. Every business book, blog, website, whatever, trots out that hoary term to describe any level of interest beyond cursory curiosity. We read of entrepreneurs who proclaim their passion for, oh, reusable diapers. Or organically-grown kale. Or car polish. Pretty much any item you can think of, SOMEbody out there has a passion for it.

My objection with that multiplicity of passions is that, just like immersive everything, it diminishes the meaning of the word. It creates an all-or-nothing world, in which emotions consist only of flattened affect or reality-show rage, with no middle ground. It also encourages trite usage of  the same words over and over, rather than encouraging development of a broader vocabulary. It’s rather like the way that “awesome” has become the all-purpose adjective for any positive experience, event, or item.

Sorry, but not everything is AWESOME. No matter what The Lego Movie says.

As I’ve mentioned before, my daughter Emily is far wiser than I. I suspect this is one of those times when she’d say, “Dad, I think this is more a YOU issue than a THEM issue.” And she would likely be correct.

I tend to obsess over meaning, and lack thereof. I like the fine shades and gradations of meaning that can be created by use of just the right word, and am dismayed by the posterized, polarizing language that dominates common speech in these times. For one who can be horribly crass and in-your-face, I do demand a certain subtlety in communication.

But the problem is mine, really, and not the problem of those immersive, passionate types who dominate our pages and airwaves with their pep-squad prose and relentless fervor.

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand how someone could be, say, a lepidopterist who devoted his life to the study of one particular family of butterflies. In the blue-collar meatpacking town in which I was born, such a person would’ve been viewed with amusement and a little concern, and likely labeled a “weirdo”…the same way that we kids viewed the male neighbor who dressed in full witch’s attire at Halloween. But: while collecting butterflies and pinning them to a board for a school project, I began to understand the appeal of the subject, the allure of order and the understanding of a big picture beyond oneself. Later on, it gave me a little more understanding of one of my high school biology teachers, a PhD who specialized in lepidoptera.

Did we still think he was weird? Yes, but that was due more to his personality than his specialty. After all, most of the kids in the class had parents who were college teachers or researchers; by then, we were well-acquainted with adults with obsessions.

Later, as a college student studying mechanical engineering, I was baffled by the EE students, whose interests seemed so much more ephemeral and theoretical than the pumps and gear-drives and camshafts I studied. I came to realize that for many EE students, as with mathematicians,  that was much of the appeal of the subject. It could be carried with them at all times, worked on and puzzled over…all in their heads.

Convenient. And indicative of a real passion, not the hysterically-hyped infomercial variety, and of a mind truly immersed in its subject.

Now—something like that, I have no problem with.

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