Everything is interesting, but not everyone is interested

Did you know that wooden screws were used in the devices that produced olive oil and wine in Ancient Greece? Over two thousand years ago.

Did you know that Nokia began as a Finnish paper mill in 1865, produced rubber, electronics and telecommunication devices throughout the 20th century, and made their first mobile phone in 1992?

Did you know that, during the Second World War, Britain’s survival was only partly due to our resilience? That at Dunkirk the Allied forces would have been annihilated had Hitler not commanded his generals to cease the attack? Or that the Blitz was abandoned by the Germans days before our industrial capacity was going to be too feeble to sustain resistance?

Did you know that there are thirteen types of essays? And three hundred species of horses? Or that there are still people who think the world is flat?

Take anything—jeans, hamsters, fences, painting, rocks, rivers, triangles, ball bearings, people’s behaviour in groups, doors—and look closely. What you’ll discover is that everything is interesting. Undeniably. The world we live in, every aspect of it is the possessor of interestingness. But here’s the thing. Not everybody is interested.

Collectively, the human race is interested in everything. There’s about seven billion people on this floating sphere. Someone here is fascinated by penguins. Someone is spellbound by silk. Anything you care to mention will be an object of interest to somebody, somewhere. 

But individually, we find only a small number of things interesting. A tiny amount in fact. Why is that? It’s nothing to do with the world around us. As I’ve said, look close enough and the most mundane quickly becomes captivating. So the issue rests with us. 

The most obvious reason is that we have a finite amount of time, attention and energy to spend. Which means we can only afford to be interested in a few things. But if we had an infinite amount of time and energy, would we be infinitely interested in the world around us? Something inside me makes me shake me head.

To a baby, a teaspoon is fascinating. They pick it up and their eyes bulge. They shake it and twist it in the air. They touch it, then bang it on the table. They try to bend it. They put it in their mouth and bite on it. When was the last time you were so intoxicated by something deemed so mundane by the world?

As we transition from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood, this appetite for wonder is slowly squeezed out of us, like toothpaste from a tube. The result is that we end up old and uninterested in everything, except a few small things about which we have the capacity to care. 

But unlike the minty paste we use to clean our teeth and gums, we can put our capacity for wonder back into the tube. We can recapture our interest in the interesting. How? Quite simply, really.

It starts with realising what you’re missing. How do you know you’ve lost your keys? You go to leave the house and find that they’re not in your pocket. It’s the same with our interest in the world. Wherever you are right now, look around. Choose something. Now wonder about it. Ask where it came from. Think about how it was made and why it’s where it is now. Think about it’s history. Who else has seen it? If you find that hard to do, you have an issue with interest. And the only way to remedy it is to practice wonder the same way you would practice a sport or craft. Regularly.

Except with this, you don’t need to go anywhere else or take up something new. Just live your life as you already are. But instead of floating through time and space paying attention to practically nothing, take the time to wonder. As you walk down the street, look at the pavement. Think how many feet have pounder over the slabs? Think about how long they’ve been there. As you brisk-walk through the park, look at the grass. Really see it. Does it look new and springy? Is it downtrodden? As you’re sat in the office look at the out-of-date monitor displaying your spreadsheets. Where did it come from? Who made it? Not what company, but what people were involved in the manufacturing process?

The time we have is far less than the all the questions we could ask about the world. But wouldn’t you rather have too many questions and too little time, than too much time and too few questions to occupy it? The former is an appetite for wonder. The latter is a failing of interest in this endlessly fascinating world.