Wednesday, September 12, 2012

“Pretty soon they’ll have you chipped”: The cult of busy

**this gem was solicited but never ran in an online mag.....

A recent piece in the New York Times perfectly articulates my distaste for the cult of busy. I’ve been gas lighting on this for a while, it always sits wrong with me when the response to “How are you?” is any variation on “Busy!” Clearly the word stands on for a host of virtues, martyrdoms, false advertising and smugness.

For me, busy-ness equates with some level of anxiety. When I think about it, the culprit of that anxious busy feeling is my smartphone. It’s become a constant companion, balancing communication and scheduling with entertainment. But it is a tyrant. It demands to be checked within 5 minutes of awakening, and again at 10 minutes intervals throughout the day. Along with the smartphone came a host of social networking responsibilities that I embraced enthusiastically. Now and forevermore it seems a fraction--sometimes small, sometimes large--of my attention is always elsewhere—on tumblr, blogger, twitter or facebook. Email and text are a constant, minor distraction, like a mosquito always buzzing, just out of reach of the swatter.

The irony of this S+M phone love is that I have always hated the phone. I always looked at my landline as a necessary evil of sorts; I was not one who loved a lengthy chat or welcomed lots of aimless phone chatter. A phone was to report an emergency or arrange a meeting in person. Now, my brain is part wired to a constant unrelenting stream of trivial information. It does suck up a certain about of time that could be spent reading on the couch, but worse is the feeling that it’s sucking up a great deal of not only time, but psychic energy.

not a captain of industry over here

Facebook is a perfect example of a sort of mindless busywork, it must be checked at regular intervals, to learn the most mundane things that I would resent listening to in person. I would say a third of my FB friends are people I would not bother to acknowledge on the street. I know I am not unique in this regard.  There is a kind of low grade mania attached to this perpetual distraction, as this piece explains well.  To quote, “The computer is electronic cocaine for many people,” says Whybrow. “Our brains are wired for finding immediate reward. With technology, novelty is the reward. You essentially become addicted to novelty.”  What could be more novel, or more distracting than twitter or tumblr?

The other day my cray sister tweeted to me a beautiful prophecy for the future: ‘your whole life won’t be controlled by twitter. Pretty soon they’ll have u chipped and u’l see the screen inside yr eyelids’. The good news is I saw this today on the Guardian website. Let’s all never have a quiet, private thought again shall we? I thank all the saints that technology is here to prevent us from having to dwell in the quiet of our own minds.

I’ve always been one to embrace leisure. For me, a big part of a life well lived is free time in abundance. The minute I feel overbooked, overworked, anxious and beholden to the expectations of others, I start to shut down. A big part of water cooler conversation involves weekend plans; my perfect weekend has NO plans. It seems people find that a little odd. To proclaim idleness, with pride, is something of an anomaly. The cultural messaging is perfectly clear on this point—the goal is perpetual motion, your time and energy must be tapped to the nth degree. If it is not, you might be flawed.

I’ve developed a Pavlovian response to proclamations of busy-ness. It has started to irritate me. Notice if you offer to help someone who claims the busy burden, often you simply can’t. When you work, live and play in a state of constant distraction, it’s not a simple matter to focus.

I have always had the radical idea that the measure of success was leisure. The picture of success is Beyoncé (and Blue Ivy, preferably) on a yacht, not Gordon Gecko screaming into a phone, forehead veins bulging ominously. Or do I have it wrong? The old “work hard, play hard” maxim seems to work for some; personally I’d rather work a little and relax a lot. I’ve constructed my life to have the perfect balance of work (rewarding, meaningful to me, ever changing often taxing) and the kind of ‘play’ that suits me (long evenings watching horror movies, long hours reading books that absorb me). It’s a luxury, I guess but maybe not unique among childless adults. Still, the state of doing nothing, of leisure, of relaxing into an expanse of time with no pressing responsibilities or deadlines—it’s heaven to me.

this guy HATES being busy
 If there is a particular kind of brain wave that sustains people and makes them feel good, it’s not the one engaged in social networking, and it’s not the one that goes by the term “busy”. The one that recharges and relaxes you is the same one that’s engaged when you spend time with friends/family, pet a dog, walk through a park (NOT looking at your phone dammit!), eat something awesome, do something creative, read in a warm bathtub. That’s the brain I want, not the busy anxious one.  

I will never complain to you about being “busy”. Busy does not interest me at all; I will do everything possible to elude busy-ness, just short of throwing my phone under a subway.

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