On the other hand, we still love to cross other types of conceptual distance, and we love to take our time doing it. Some of our favorite classic movies are suspense, too. Even though we already know how the story ends, we still enjoy the journeys of “North by Northwest”, “Vertigo”, and other films that take us across the conceptual distance from who-dunnit to they-dunnit with an engaging, well-told story. We delight in romance, mysteries, suspense – all of which organize themselves around conceptual journeys from not-knowing to knowing, from not-having to having. According to Publisher’s Weekly, romance, suspense/thrillers, and mystery/detective titles sold more than 62 million units in 2015. That’s a lot of people making the trip from not-knowing to knowing. The internet was supposed to kill publishing in the 1990s, but in fact it exploded the availability of books. It’s become abundantly clear that even the most speed-loving people will still pay good money for a print book that gives them a space in which to immerse themselves in a conceptual journey. From the opening scene, to the resolution of the plot (or even just conclusion without a resolution), we love our books and their stories, and we trust that the author will “get us there” with satisfaction. Like teeny-tiny neurotransmitters spewing into synaptic clefts many times their own size, we gladly set off on our journey into the conceptual unknown, however long it takes.
Additionally, research, facts and figures, and “how-to”s are great examples of conceptual bridges. If there were no conceptual distance – i.e., if we already knew everything that we need to know, the minute we encountered it – there would be no explosion of research, statistics, how-to wikis, and the countless analysts and explainers of print and broadcast media who build their careers out of purportedly helping us to get from the state of not comprehending to feeling like we do understand. Even when they’re wrong / mistaken / deceiving us, we still enjoy the conceptual journey that leaves us feeling like we’ve “gotten somewhere” in terms of being more aware and engaged with our world.
Sports, in particular, are a sort of time-consuming conceptual journey that’s as popular as ever. At the start of the game you don’t know who is the better team. You can certainly argue about their strengths and weaknesses, but until the game plays out, you won’t know for sure who’s the better team that day. No matter how you try to hurry it up, you’re never going to get a professional football or basketball game to last less than the time it’s officially allotted. The game may be called on account of weather, earthquake, or some other extreme circumstances, but regulation play lasts a minimum amount of time. Same with baseball – it will take as long as it takes to get through nine innings, and in some cases (Red Sox and Yankees games come to mind – umpires have actually had to tell the teams to speed up their play), it can take much longer. But fans will sit through the extended contest, to find out how the journey ends. We may not be happy about losing sleep on a Sunday night, but we’ll do it – even if it means misery on Monday morning. Win or lose, we still got to participate in the group journey from not-knowing to knowing about the outcome. We joined in something bigger than us, a ritual shared by tens of thousands, maybe millions. For those who value that, any time spent on sports is an investment, not a waste.
Outcome predictions are a great example of how we add distance to our games. Think of all the time and money spent gambling, all the contests people love to enter, and especially those election cycles which drag on for years on end with endless commentary and poll results. We create conditions in our minds which we realistically have no way of proving in that very moment – there’s a time-frame and a series of events that needs to play out, in order to prove ourselves right or wrong. All of the predictions and guesstimates we put out there are creations of our own conceptual distance And while they separate us from our ultimate knowing of the outcome with another piece of not-knowing, they also heighten our investment and engagement in the game experience, as we cross the temporal and conceptual distance with others to find out who’s going to win. We may not be fond of separation, but it prompts us to action. Crossing conceptual gaps builds us out. It fleshes out our lived experience. And it gives us a greater sense of being involved in our world.
We can spend quite a bit of our free time crossing conceptual gaps for fun. We love the stimulation of puzzles and games, with Sudoku being wildly successful as more than just a passing fad. Crossword puzzles are continuously popular, and figure-it-out games like charades, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and Pictionary remain favorites through the years. Projects and hobbies have an element of distance to them, as well. Refurbishing an old car, building furniture, inventing things, so in clothing, making arts or crafts or scrap-booking, are all great examples of crossing the distance between nothing to something. We have a distant vision in mind of what we want to have happen, and we pursue it with all our might, spending more money and time than our friends and family think is wise. It would have less significance for us if it came easy, and we expend considerable time, energy, and attention on what is essentially an experience in embracing and loving our separation from a distant goal. We love every minute of it. Even if it sometimes feels like it’s driving us to distraction.
Meeting an attractive person for the first time also has an element of conceptual distance. We don’t know that person, we have only just met them, and yet we feel compelled to understand what makes them tick. All interpersonal relationship-building is actual crossing of conceptual distance… closing the “knowing” gap. Getting to know someone, having conversations with them, learning more about them to fill in the details about who they are and what they’re about, all the while figuring out what part they will play in our lives is very important to us. It’s so important that people who don’t converse freely with others and verbalize in the ways that others do can be considered actual threats.