While perusing Flipboard, one of my favorite news apps, I came across an interesting little tidbit about a fairly new malady called “Constantly Thinking Disorder.” According to a rather bogus looking site called Online Therapy (just what we don’t need in these problematic times), “Constantly thinking, or obsessively thinking can drive oneself into a dark hole.”
So, I suppose we should avoid constantly thinking as much as possible, especially if we are thinking about the dangers of constantly thinking. According to some bloggers on this site, CTD is not really a disorder and should not be confused with OCD or other woes listed in the DSM, that veritable Bible of Psychiatry. Just don’t think too much about all this, and you should be fine after taking two pills and getting plenty of bedrest.
In an effort to avoid as much thinking as possible–not a bad idea as a survival strategy tactic after reading today’s headlines–I naturally turned my reduced-thinking attention to pop culture and arrived at a spot where forty two years ago the Pet Rock was born. But before I got too involved with this pretty brainless topic, I did do some light thinking about another, yet related topic I found on Flipboard. Having had several philosophy courses in college, I happened to be familiar with the topic, but haven’t given it much thought in the past few years. In a very brief notice in last Wednesday’s Boing-Boing newsletter, excerpted from Philosophy Now, Mark Frauenfelder writes about European philosopher Philip Goff, who is a specialist in a very old form of thinking–panpsychism–which posits that all material entities are possessed of some form of consciousness. Brought into the modern scientific era, this way of thinking is convinced that “fundamental physical entities such as electrons have thoughts,” and therefore may have some form of psychic content. This means that even rocks might be thinking at some level. So you better be good to your Pet Rock, if you have one.
Now that I have evoked the muse of Philosophy in order to give this column some sort of respectability, it is time to revisit the wonderful world of pet rocks. The first Pet Rock was introduced to the world in August 1975 by a California ad man named Gary Dahl (1936-2015). According to Jane and Michael Stern’s wonderful and essential tome THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POP CULTURE (1992), Dahl dreamed up his idea, which made him a multi-millionnaire, after “having drinks with his buddies one night in April 1975.” After their semi-drunken state led them into a conversation about the joys and inconveniences of owning pets, Dahl began to envision his creation–a pet that required no active attention, didn’t have to be walked or taken out to pee, and didn’t cost a small fortune in food, toys, and visits to the vet. A simple rock, once the adoption fee was paid, could bring his or her (do rocks have gender?) owners years of trouble-free maintenance.
Although Dahl probably didn’t intend this, his innovative and copy-righted Pet Rock epitomized American pop culture, and became a memorable and quite inert symbol for America’s bicentennial. In fact, the pet rock phenomenon offers a nearly-mythic tale of how an ordinary person can affect the lives of millions of other people while creating a significant cultural fad. As the Sterns point out, “the story of the Pet Rock is a never-ending source of inspiration to create new crazes that sweep the nation and make millions for the genius who thought of them. To most noninventive people who remember it, the Pet Rock, like Deely Bobber head antennae and the Hula Hoop has become one of the mind-boggling examples of inexplicable market-place mania.” Today’s Fidget Spinners, which are rapidly waning in popularity, are our modern-day descendents of the pet rock and countless other pop culture fads.
As mentioned earlier, the Pet Rock has returned, as many pop culture fads do. My favorite incarnation is the USB Pet Rock. That’s right, a pet rock with an embedded USB port. According to its ThinkGeek webpage, this neat little item, which is currently sold out, “gives you love . . .draws no power . . . .is compatible with any OS including Mac, Windows and Linux. . . .[and] includes 18’ long USB cable.” Perhaps the most attractive feature of these must-have little items is that, once they are plugged in, “don’t do a dang thing.” We are then admonished by the marketers to get our “USB Pet Rock today and help make us rich tomorrow.”
Of course, the most attractive feature of the original and the reincarnated versions of the Pet Rock is that they don’t require much thought and will give our brains a much-needed rest. If you want to become nearly brain-dead, I suggest you download your own copy of Dahl’s “The Care And Training Of Your Pet Rock” manual, which shipped with each new pet. This is a true classic from that wacky decade of the 1970s, and concludes with the very apt advice, “If you take care of your Pet Rock, your Pet Rock will take care of you.” This deserves its place alongside such brainless sayings as “If it feels good, do it,” and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
Here’s wishing you some relief from Constant Thinking Disorder this week. Hope this column didn’t cause you to lapse into thinking. See you next week.