After the thrill is gone

In our new space of social networking platforms, there are large inventories of inactive accounts. In the space of technological innovations, there's an initial hype cycle with a disproportionate amount of buzz for the small number of early adopters. In the space of new venues for socializing and entertainment,, there's the line around the block during the grand opening that fizzles out to a bunch of regulars and occasional newbies. In the space of volunteer projects and community activism, there's usually a burst of enthusiastic involvement that fades quickly and leaves a few hard core members to carry the heavy load.

This is a recognizable and predictable pattern. The form of the opportunity only functions for a short while -- for most of the people who initially found it useful, beneficial and worth their time. It quickly follows that there is a disconnect between the form and function. It no longer works for them. The process of losing interest, commitment and engagement involves the kinds of predictions in use by the people who are "losing it". These conclusive predictions yield minds that are functioning as "mental mechanisms".

This process has no beginning or end. It's cyclical and self perpetuating. A mind experiences boredom from situations that are highly predictable and routine. Familiarity with the situation breeds contempt for the contributors and self loathing for one's personal involvement. An escape is sought from this condition in a space that defies predictions, expectations and familiarity. The escape is thrilling and successful. The form of the escape is functional. However, one's ability to estimate value, assess character and make decisions is highly skewed. The desire to escalate the thrill results in over-estimating, over-spending and over-committing to the escape. Something then happens that bursts the bubble of delusional predictions:
  • The over-estimates get proven wrong and spawns a crisis of self confidence
  • The over-spending gets shown to be wasted, reckless and naive which lets loose a tide of self remorse.
  • The over-commitment gets repaid with over-taxing expectations and over-burdensome obligations
The thrill is gone. The honeymoon is over. The boredom returns. The escape episode appears to have been as predictable and boring as the situation that inspired the thrill seeking. The need of an escape takes shape again. The attraction of unpredictable, unexpected and unfamiliar distractions becomes more alluring. The cycle is poised to repeat once more.


  1. Hi Tom,

    I would go so far as to term this "diminishing astonishment", a term a mentor of mine used some time ago (no credit taken).

    As the cycle repeats it becomes shorter until there is an innovation that is so monumental it becomes part of the way we live (mobile phones)and then the length of the cycle extends.

    Rob Wilkins

  2. Hi Rob
    Thanks for another way to see this pattern. I wonder if this sequence of shorter cycles, innovation and longer cycles also applies to learning?

    What if learners were experiencing diminishing astonishment from what and how they were getting taught. It wouldn't take much for them to get bored, disinterested and distracted. An innovation could be the application of the two most recent posts on your blog. The learners might be experiencing the context of whole real-world tasks, the immediate use of a cognitive structure, etc. This would seem astonishing at first, in contrast to being bored, learning nothing, etc.

    The engagement induced by this innovative context would lengthen the cycle. It would then take a lot more adversity, lack of context, defiance of first principles -- to get the learners to lose interest and to diminish their astonishment.