We’ve all done it. At the end of a busy day, we just want to unwind with a movie. But with so many choices, we browse through endless options only to go to bed without watching anything. The commitment to a two-hour movie can clock in as an eternity to a mind trained by 90-second TikTok videos, particularly for younger generations that have been bred to view limitless possibilities as a birthright.
Pete Davis is a millennial on a mission to help his generation and others break the cycle of “infinite browsing.” Davis, who is in his early 30s, makes the case that our culture encourages young people to keep their options open, especially for major decisions such as relationships, marriage and careers. But while choices and agility offer benefits, they can lead to a lack of commitment.
Instead, Davis believes, people should model themselves on “long-haul heroes” — those who have committed themselves to a community, person or cause. In short, he argues, take a leap and put your heart into it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cut your losses if something doesn’t pan out. But you have to make a commitment.
In Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing, Davis explains how to walk the tightrope between committing to something and letting go if necessary, as well as how to determine what is commitment-worthy.
It was an answer to a question: What are we going to do? A lot of people my age feel we live in very dark times, that institutions are corrupted, community is in decline, politics is a mess and the climate is heading toward catastrophe. And there’s not a lot of hope for the future. The message we kept getting was to keep our options open: “The world’s changing so much, who knows?” I just kept feeling that is not going to solve these great problems of our time. And that’s not a path to our own personal joy and impact.
Meanwhile, there was a group of people that I felt were doing the exact opposite of keeping their options open. They were what I call “long-haul heroes,” people who fell in love with a particular thing, a particular place or a person or a community or an institution or a craft or a cause. And they were showing their love for that thing by working at it for a long time, by closing doors and forgoing other options. Those people, the long-haul heroes, those who are in this counterculture of commitment, were solving the problems out there, and they were the most on fire with joy and felt the most purposeful. They had the deepest communities. They felt the most depth in their lives. So I said, “Something’s wrong here. We’ve got to get a message out that says, ‘Don’t keep your options open. Join this counterculture of commitment.’”
Browsing has always been a part of us, but I feel it’s reached an inflection point in recent decades, partially because of technology where you could literally see all of the alternative ways you could live in the next two minutes by flipping open TikTok or Instagram, or swipe through a thousand people you could possibly date on these dating apps.
There’s also been a cultural change. There is a decline in what I call “institutions of attachment,” the types of things that help you connect with a career path, the types of things that help you connect with a person, that culture of your aunt sitting you down and saying, “I think you should date that person over there. They seem nice.” There are just fewer people willing to help you walk the journey of attachment. There’s more of everyone feeling, “You do you, I do me.”
The downside of infinite browsing is you don’t get those gifts of committing. One is purpose, the feeling that you have a sense of meaning in your day-to-day life, that you’re driven forward not just by novelty but by purpose, that the actions you take have significance to them. Community. Committed people are surrounded by friends and comrades in the cause or the practice or the craft or the profession. When you’re infinite browsing, it’s harder to find that sense of belonging with that sense of purpose.
Another thing that comes from commitment is a sense of depth, the feeling of mastery over something you know. There’s a kaleidoscope of meaning because you have mastery over that area. The ordinary becomes extraordinary by your commitment to it.
We are searching for this authentic self that’s supposedly out there — the pure, correct life that will align with what we were meant to do. But that doesn’t exist. What exists is what you choose to do. The only way to find yourself is to make yourself, and the way to make yourself is to get committed to something, because the substance of your life is filled up by your relationships with particular things.
The enemy of this book is not quitting; it’s infinite browsing. It’s about taking the plunge of entering a journey that might last a long time. And my goal is to get people going on things. My argument is that if you let yourself attach to something, it will naturally pull you to want to stick with it.
Quitting is part of the life cycle of a thing. Commitments are like relationships, and relationships are like living things. That ecosystem in your soul will have a life cycle. Maybe it’ll last your whole life and maybe it won’t, and maybe your actions during it will lead to its lasting longer or not. But if it’s dead, it’s dead, and to playact as if it’s not dead is morbid. Don’t do that. The first thing you can do when you’re nervous about making a commitment is think about how you can quit, if that’s going to help you make the commitment.