Matt Heath: Wasting my life watching Air Force One

Imagine this. Terrorists hijack a Boeing 747. They shoot a dozen passengers and take the rest hostage. A heroic traveller in a business suit makes a stand. He stows away in the cargo hold and kills the gunmen one by one before throwing their leader out the loading bay, yelling: “Get off my plane!” Who is this hero? None other than the President of the United States of America. Amazing! You can stop employing your brain now — no need to imagine this exciting scenario. You can sit down, switch off and watch the 1997 Harrison Ford mega-blockbuster Air Force One.

It’s a gripping, tightly plotted political action thriller which features some of the least convincing special effects ever put to film.

What percentage of your life would you spend watching something like Air Force One? I had already seen it five times when it popped up on Netflix account last week. My kids hadn’t, so I made them watch. Popcorn and blankets on the couch, a lovely entertaining night in. As the credits rolled, I thought to myself: “what the hell am I doing with my life? I could die tomorrow, and I am spending the precious moments I have on Earth watching Air Force On for the sixth time? We should be walking the Routeburn.”

As we get older, life feels like it’s speeding up. It races by while we do the same things over and over again.

In 2012, during his “Death and the Present Moment” speech, American neuroscientist Sam Harris put it this way: “There’s going to come a day when you’ll be sick, or someone close to you will die, and you will look back on the kinds of things that captured your attention, and you’ll think: ‘What was I doing?’ You know this, and yet you’ll spend most of your time in life tacitly presuming you’ll live forever. Like watching a bad movie for the fourth time, or bickering with your spouse. These things only make sense in light of eternity. There had better be a heaven if we’re going to waste our time like this.”

Even if you live a hundred years, you only get 876,000 hours. Who knows how many we have left? It could be one. I’ve wasted 12 of my hours watching Air Force One. Does a movie rated 78 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes deserve half of one of my days?How many people on their deathbed look back and think: “I wish I had watched Air Force One more time”?

“Are you not entertained?” – Maximus Meridius.

We enjoy sitting in a vegetative state, flicking through social media, watching movies and TV. What’s wrong with that? If something makes you happy, why not do it as much as you can? If Air Force One continues to entertain, watch it 1000 times. Robert Nozick, a Harvard University philosophy professor, created the famous Pleasure Machine Thought Experiment to test ideas like this. Consider a machine that delivers unlimited pleasures. However, once you choose to plug into it, you can never be disconnected. Would you plug in? Most people say they wouldn’t. We believe life should have more meaning. It’s gross to sit there doing nothing, achieving nothing and earning nothing but pleasure. Your life passing you by as you sit there year after year with a weird smile on your face.

According to psychology writer Claudia Hammond, novel experiences create the perception that time passes more slowly. “As you get older, you may feel life is going faster and faster. This may be because you are doing the same things over and over again. Your brain is comfortable with what is happening and doesn’t bother to log the events.”

Patricia Costello, a neuroscientist at Walden University, puts it this way: “How can we stop that feeling of things going too fast, of missing out on our own lives? It comes back to learning new things. Are you cooking something different? Introducing novelty into your life will make the memories stand out and stretch time.”

How does all this first-year philosophy stuff relate to the POTUS kicking arse on a 747?

1. Watching Air Force One for the sixth time is probably a waste of the few hours of existence I have left.

2. There is more to life than being entertained by the same thing over and over again.

3. Our lives gain meaning, and the years rush past a little slower when we focus on new, interesting and challenging things.

In conclusion: Air Force One = Pretty good.I’d recommend watching it once, twice at the most. 3.5 stars.

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