My smartphone is always nearby, just in case.
Well… Anything, really. An emergency. One of my kids needing something. An email from a client.
Mostly, it wards off idleness, and idleness is not something I particularly like.
I may be stuck in traffic for an hour and need to check email. Hooray for the phone! I may be tapping my foot in a supermarket line, but I’m able to edit a draft. Isn’t connectivity a marvel? I’m on hold with the cable company, the phone company, or some other service provider, but I can continue research on the Internet and send myself a few cogent links. How great is that?
When I find I’m waiting for any reason – hardly unusual in our overscheduled lifestyle – I’m delighted to be able to use my time wisely. In other words, not to be idle. After all, idleness implies an undesirable lack of activity – uselessness, inertia, laziness even.
Let’s hear it for the perpetually busy and therefore, never without value, much less bored!
Even on the weekend, when I take a bit of a breath, I’m more often than not looking down – at a keyboard of some sort.
Not exactly restful.
Must NOT Working Be “Bad?”
When I consider the word idle, my mind also goes to the car with an engine that is running, but I’m not moving.
Then, it chokes. The end. At least, until repairs are possible, which mean a hassle, a headache, and more than a few bucks.
So if I idle, am I bound to stop? Will it be that much harder to get going again? Why does working, working, working or busy, busy, busy feel so much better than even the thought of ceasing for very long? Is it because it’s harder to start up again after? Is it something more? Is it simply because it’s what I’m used to, which has successfully propelled my little family through the past dozen challenging years?
Not a pretty picture to bear in mind if you’re accustomed to being busy, staying busy, and busy has become the norm and the measuring stick of the society you live in. (Hello? That would be everyone I know, personally.)
And naturally, when paid time off isn’t part of your professional life, busy is good (you’re making money), and idle… not so much.
Can You Enjoy Doing Nothing?
Those who know me will attest to the fact that I’m dreadful at “doing nothing.” I’m working, I’m writing, I’m learning something. And this follows many years of working, writing, parenting, working, parenting, working… and if I was lucky, learning something. ‘Nuff said. I’m certainly not alone in that!
As much as anything, the “busy cycle” becomes habit when you’re chasing through your days juggling parenting and work, and may be reinforced by the typical independent’s routine: You work, you’re paid; you don’t; you’re not. Yet even in my corporate career, I worked very long hours not only because it was expected but because it was the means to get ahead. Besides, there was always something more to attack, to learn, to accomplish. I found satisfaction in that. I still do. Surely, this is a function of being raised with an school work ethic, but one that has served me extremely well.
That smartphone in my pocket? It helps get even more done. Except…
Doing nothing rarely occurs anymore, with few exceptions.
I am, like millions of others, mired in sticky expectations of 24/7 access and even in those off moments when a little daydreaming might be warranted, instead – we tweet, we text, we Snapchat.
The Cost of Our Connections
In “The Lost Art of Doing Nothing,” Utne Reader’s Christian Williams looks around while on a lunch break, and notes that everyone is on their smartphones. This is not necessarily without its cost – something we have compromised for the convenience (and entertainment) of our connectivity.
… it’s entirely possible the most damaging effect of technology’s integration into our daily lives is that it’s replacing something many people have never thought was worth doing—sitting still and simply letting your mind wander.
“Letting your mind wander.”
When is the last time you did that – without a device in hand, or for that matter, a book or anything else that serves as a barrier between you and your surroundings? That which makes us less approachable but also more isolated? When is the last time you permitted the particular aloneness that comes from sitting in a crowd and listening, watching, and soaking it all in?
This is a very special type of “doing nothing” that isn’t nothing at all. It’s about enjoying our environment. Being open to human interaction. Honing our observation skills. Embracing a free flow of ideas.
The Idle Mind is Still Engaged
I also wonder about the notion of the idle mind in the context of the way I make my living. Do I fret over easing up because of writer’s block – not that it plagues me often, but because I fear it?
Are some of us more concerned about letting down because the wandering mind just may enjoy going far afield – and we worry it will rebel at the thought of coming back?
As for disconnecting from the phone (and other devices), I’ve been trying to do more of it with mixed results. I’m working on viewing it not as idleness – with its negative notes of sloth – but as disconnecting from technology and the daily stress in order to reconnect with fundamental sources of inspiration and creativity. Namely – people, nature, the senses.
In place of looking down at a small screen, I’d like to engage in a more human fashion – by looking up.
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