Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Praise of Balance and Perspective

Are we now an over-connected, over-communicated, over-device'd lot?  Not to mention over-burdened, over-worked lot?

I am fortunate to have traveled widely, and to have lived abroad (i.e., Dubai, Manila).  I haven't worked a job in the US in several years now, but back then companies gave just two weeks of vacation time a year (i.e., 10 days).  Plus there were holidays with which we could enjoy three-day weekends. We learned to nickel-and-dime our allowance, because we had so precious little of it.

In the Middle East, however, we had 35 days of vacation time per year, plus Arab and Muslim holidays.  HR policy was, If you took two weeks off, the intervening weekend days counted as vacation, so 12 days would come off your allowance.  But one year, I took these 35 days one week (5 days) at a time.  In other words I stretched 35 days to 7 weeks.

So my point?  There is reason to take serious note of an article in the Economist - In praise of laziness.

(image credit)
All this “leaning in” is producing an epidemic of overwork, particularly in the United States. Americans now toil for eight-and-a-half hours a week more than they did in 1979. A survey last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that almost a third of working adults get six hours or less of sleep a night. Another survey last year by Good Technology, a provider of secure mobile systems for businesses, found that more than 80% of respondents continue to work after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking their inbox and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.
It's a matter of culture and a matter of cultural differences.  The devices we fabricate, the policies we implement, the reprimands we dole out are truly of this culture incarnate.  We Americans simply have difficulty easing up or disconnecting, because, it seems, the very fibers of our mindset were forged from, and handed down by, generations past.  These very fibers both influence the products and services companies manufacture and are influenced by the products and services companies prompt us, and get us, to buy.  Our sophistication and technology are our sleek assets, but in a way they are our prison as well.

But let's keep things in perspective.  The title "In praise of laziness" is of course over-stated.  It makes for a clever journalistic ploy, as no doubt it serves the purpose of attracting us to read it.  But more than just over-stated, it's a deceptive and dismissive thing to say.  Whoever authored it means to say that we do need to keep things in perspective and in balance.  Outright laziness does no one or no company any good.

Rather, the point is to take some time to sit quietly, do nothing, meditate and reflect.  Perhaps read a physical book or magazine, or write in a physical journal.  Listen to music on the stereo, instead of a laptop or tablet.  In one of the best articles I've read - Not So Fast - John Freeman writes persuasively about the practical and aesthetic benefits of slowing down:
We need context in order to live, and if the environment of electronic communication has stopped providing it, we shouldn't search online for a solution but turn back to the real world and slow down. To do this, we need to uncouple our idea of progress from speed, separate the idea of speed from effi­ciency, pause and step back enough to realize that efficiency may be good for business and governments but does not always lead to mindfulness and sustainable, rewarding relationships. We are here for a short time on this planet, and reacting to demands on our time by simply speeding up has canceled out many of the benefits of the Internet, which is one of the most fabulous technological inventions ever conceived. We are connected, yes, but we were before, only by gossamer threads that worked more slowly. Slow communication will preserve these threads and our ability to sensibly choose to use faster modes when necessary. It will also preserve our sanity, our families, our relationships and our ability to find happiness in a world where, in spite of the Internet, saying what we mean is as hard as it ever was. It starts with a simple instruction: Don't send.
In my article - Internet Reflections and Reversals - I offer a poem to this effect:

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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