As the year draws to a close and another birthday approaches along with Christmas, I find myself submitting occasionally to tech lust–a wandering after the latest and best-est sorts of gadgets in town–as advertised in the avalanche of catalogues that have hit mailboxes near and far. Ipads, retina displays, touch screens, accessories for standing your tablets, accessories for playing the music you downloaded, apps to take photos to showcase your wit to networks, e-readers, GPSes, coffee machines that do everything but grow coffee beans and technical solution overkill for almost every imagined want in the world.
I eye these gadgets, shake my head at the falling prices, recall when I used to think I’d never afford any, comfort myself with the fact these wonders are no longer unreachable and resist the impulse to order a box off the internet as even better bargains.
Where I work and I think it’s the case at most university campuses these days, technology and gadgets that help people be and work smarter, harder and faster are on every wall and every office nook and cranny. At most meetings, smart phones are whipped out and tablets surreptitiously typed into at some point. And at lectures, you’d get really cross or have to expend your energies acting like a real martinet if you insisted students pay you 100% attention. If you ever imagined universities to be where people sit and think and chat about philosophy, think again, this only rarely happens and usually, when you’re working on your Phd thesis. Even undergraduates are busy tapping into networks, getting ‘real world’ experience and generally, working a couple of jobs to deal with their lifestyle demands.
All of which leads me to think maybe Michael Goldhaber was right when he wrote in 1997 of the net economy as one where ‘attention’ would be the new commodity. Colleagues, friends and relatives, we so seldom sit still and enjoy each other’s company, undiluted by broadband connectivity, blueray dazzle or some other annoying ‘psst’ from a mobile device. We hardly pay enough attention to wait for an answer to the prefunctory ‘how’re you doing?’ that passes for common courtesy along corridors and passageways, let alone how we think and feel. Yes, some focussed attention would be really nice.
Although, when I do think about it, what is really missing and precious in the midst of all the mult-tasks that one could attend to at every moment of every day, is time. Not attention but a lack of distraction or the need for ‘efficiency’ but time to let facts sink in, listen to what others say and time to proffer a ‘what if?’ instead of a hasty ‘so what?’ and move on.
So, as the deadline for my manuscript looms, I am resolved to give myself the best birthday gift — empty time. Much as I love my research and cannot imagine what else I might want to work on at the moment, when I leave for my long-awaited (it’s been 3 whole years since the last!) holiday, I will gift myself the time to not fret over the piece. Instead of lugging the entire script with me, in soft or hard copy, I am going to leave the work behind. To leave be, to stop striving or wanting and simply be with my family.Unoccupied, unscheduled and unhurried time. Undulating in the fashion that nature dictates.