Friday, November 2, 2012

Serenity vs. Busyness

Most of the time, I feel overwhelmed with work, overloaded with life and household concerns, and over-stimulated by American life outside my door.  And I don’t even have any kids!  What I’ve heard from friends, I’m not alone.  It just seems like thirty years ago, we all had a lot more time and life moved at a slower pace.  Is fast really better?  Is being connected 24/7 really better?

 In the November 2012 issue of The Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan writes about what his travel used to be like vs. the way it is now.  The contrast is stunning.  Now, he spends most of his time with e-mail, preparing for interviews and then dealing with business while he’s traveling and doing the interviews in exotic countries.  He has no time to take a deep breath and look around at where he is, what the local people are doing, and making connections with the culture as well as the people.  Thirty years ago, he had time to read up on the history and culture of the place he was visiting.  He arrived with the names and phone numbers of possible interviewees whom he called.  Most were happy to talk with him and welcomed him with warm and generous hospitality.  Has technology made hospitality obsolete?  He writes about how difficult it is nowadays to unplug from the information technology grid.  To not be available 24/7.  We have younger generations who are programmed to stay connected and will not know the joy of unconnected serenity.

A few pages later in the same issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows interviews productivity expert David Allen about what we have to look forward to in productivity in the future.  Allen validates Kaplan’s experience.  In our technologically connected world, we are busy and becoming busier with each new innovation.  Soon, the “busyness” will detract from what we need to do.  We won’t be able to focus well or concentrate for long.  Technology intrudes with constant distractions that will challenge us in performing our jobs and living our lives.  The decisions hanging over us will wear us down.  His solution involves developing “the executive skill and ability to make rapid decisions about how you allocate limited resources,” and learning to externalize what’s on your mind.  He does not see technology going away. 

I make lists.  I write myself notes on post-its and stick them to the picture hanging above my desk.  I make notes on the calendar hanging on my kitchen wall, and the pocket calendar that I carry with me.  I have resisted obtaining tech devices to help me externalize what’s on my mind.  My fear was and continues to be that those devices can break down and suddenly I don’t have access to what I need.  But with paper and pen, no threat exists of a device breaking down or the battery dying.  Only the threat that I’ll lose the notes I’ve written to myself.

My friend Barb organizes her life using her smart phone and her iPad.  She carries them with her most of the time, although sometimes she leaves the iPad at home and uses only her phone.  During one restaurant dinner, she opened her iPad to check her calendar only to discover there was no signal.  The iPad didn’t work.  We assume when we buy new technology that it will work anywhere and at any time.

I’m not saying computers, cell phones and other technology isn’t great…when it works.  For me, technology represents one more layer of appliances that need maintenance and repair.  They connect us 24/7…when they work.  But I see them also as part of an addictive society that demands instant gratification, that doesn’t think about long term consequences, and just wants the next new thing.  And those most affected by Superstorm Sandy are discovering just how unreliable cell phones can be, which is the reason I prefer landlines.

Old is not necessarily bad.  Being unconnected is also not necessarily a bad thing.  We live on a beautiful planet with incredible nature.  When I go out for my daily walk around the neighborhood lake, I’m shocked by how many people sport earbuds or are talking on their cell phones as they walk or jog.  Why bother to go outdoors if you’re not going to see or hear or smell it or pay attention to your surroundings? 

We need to re-examine our priorities and perhaps re-arrange them.  Is your smart phone the most important thing in your life?  Or is it your family?  Or you sanity and intelligence?  Unplug for several hours each day.  You might be surprised.  

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