In Praise Of Doing Nothing


Published:

In the 1950s, scholars worried that, thanks to technological innovations, Americans wouldn’t know what to do with all of their leisure time.

Yet today, as sociologist Juliet Schor notes, Americans are overworked, putting in more hours than at any time since the Depression and more than in any other in Western society.

It’s probably not unrelated to the fact that instant and constant access has become de rigueur, and our devices constantly expose us to a barrage of colliding and clamoring messages: “Urgent,” “Breaking News,” “For immediate release,” “Answer needed ASAP.”

It disturbs our leisure time, our family time – even our consciousness.

Over the past decade, I’ve tried to understand the social and psychological effects of our growing interactions with new information and communication technologies, a topic I examine in my book “The Terminal Self: Everyday Life in Hypermodern Times.”

In this 24/7, “always on” age, the prospect of doing nothing might sound unrealistic and unreasonable.

But it’s never been more important.

Acceleration For The Sake Of Acceleration

In an age of incredible advancements that can enhance our human potential and planetary health, why does daily life seem so overwhelming and anxiety-inducing?

Why aren’t things easier?

It’s a complex question, but one way to explain this irrational state of affairs is something called the force of acceleration.

According to German critical theorist Hartmut Rosa, accelerated technological developments have driven the acceleration in the pace of change in social institutions.

We see this on factory floors, where “just-in-time” manufacturing demands maximum efficiency and the ability to nimbly respond to market forces, and in university classrooms, where computer software instructs teachers how to “move students quickly” through the material. Whether it’s in the grocery store or in the airport, procedures are implemented, for better or for worse, with one goal in mind: speed.

Noticeable acceleration began more than two centuries ago, during the Industrial Revolution. But this acceleration has itself … accelerated. Guided by neither logical objectives nor agreed-upon rationale, propelled by its own momentum, and encountering little resistance, acceleration seems to have begotten more acceleration, for the sake of acceleration.

To Rosa, this acceleration eerily mimics the criteria of a totalitarian power: 1) it exerts pressure on the wills and actions of subjects; 2) it is inescapable; 3) it is all-pervasive; and 4) it is hard or almost impossible to criticize and fight.

The Oppression Of Speed

Unchecked acceleration has consequences.

At the environmental level, it extracts resources from nature faster than they can replenish themselves and produces waste faster than it can be processed.

At the personal level, it distorts how we experience time and space. It deteriorates how we approach our everyday activities, deforms how we relate to each other and erodes a stable sense of self. It leads to burnout at one end of the continuum and to depression at the other. Cognitively, it inhibits sustained focus and critical evaluation. Physiologically, it can stress our bodies and disrupt vital functions.

 

 

For example, research finds two to three times more self-reported health problems, from anxiety to sleeping issues, among workers who frequently work in high-speed environments compared with those who do not.

When our environment accelerates, we must pedal faster in order to keep up with the pace. Workers receive more emails than ever before – a number that’s only expected to grow. The more emails you receive, the more time you need to process them. It requires that you either accomplish this or another task in less time, that you perform several tasks at once, or that you take less time in between reading and responding to emails.

American workers’ productivity has increased dramatically since 1973. What has also increased sharply during that same period is the pay gap between productivity and pay. While productivity between 1973 and 2016 has increased by 73.7 percent, hourly pay has increased by only 12.5 percent. In other words, productivity has increased at about six times the rate of hourly pay.

Clearly, acceleration demands more work – and to what end? There are only so many hours in a day, and this additional expenditure of energy reduces individuals’ ability to engage in life’s essential activities: family, leisure, community, citizenship, spiritual yearnings and self-development.

It’s a vicious loop: Acceleration imposes more stress on individuals and curtails their ability to manage its effects, thereby worsening it.

Doing Nothing And ‘Being’

In a hypermodern society propelled by the twin engines of acceleration and excess, doing nothing is equated with waste, laziness, lack of ambition, boredom or “down” time.

 An ad for Microsoft Office stresses the importance of being able to always work. Microsoft.But this betrays a rather instrumental grasp of human existence.

Much research – and many spiritual and philosophical systems – suggest that detaching from daily concerns and spending time in simple reflection and contemplation are essential to health, sanity and personal growth.

Similarly, to equate “doing nothing” with nonproductivity betrays a short-sighted understanding of productivity. In fact, psychological research suggests that doing nothing is essential for creativity and innovation, and a person’s seeming inactivity might actually cultivate new insights, inventions or melodies.

As legends go, Isaac Newton grasped the law of gravity sitting under an apple tree. Archimedes discovered the law of buoyancy relaxing in his bathtub, while Albert Einstein was well-known for staring for hours into space in his office.

The academic sabbatical is centered on the understanding that the mind needs to rest and be allowed to explore in order to germinate new ideas.

Doing nothing – or just being – is as important to human well-being as doing something.

The key is to balance the two.

Taking Your Foot Off The Pedal

Since it will probably be difficult to go cold turkey from an accelerated pace of existence to doing nothing, one first step consists in decelerating. One relatively easy way to do so is to simply turn off all the technological devices that connect us to the internet – at least for a while – and assess what happens to us when we do.

Danish researchers found that students who disconnected from Facebook for just one week reported notable increases in life satisfaction and positive emotions. In another experiment, neuroscientists who went on a nature trip reported enhanced cognitive performance.

Different social movements are addressing the problem of acceleration. The Slow Food movement, for example, is a grassroots campaign that advocates a form of deceleration by rejecting fast food and factory farming.

As we race along, it seems as though we’re not taking the time to seriously examine the rationale behind our frenetic lives – and mistakenly assume that those who are very busy must be involved in important projects.

Touted by the mass media and corporate culture, this credo of busyness contradicts both how most people in our society define “the good life” and the tenets of many Eastern philosophies that extol the virtue and power of stillness.

French philosopher Albert Camus perhaps put it best when he wrote, “Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre.”

Combining critical symbolic interaction theory and qualitative research methods, Simon Gottschalk’s interests revolve around understanding the society-psyche link in phenomena as varied as youth cultures, the mass media, mental disorders, terrorism, and interactions in virtual, urban, and natural spaces.

This article was republished from The Conversation.

See also:
How Big Wireless War-Gamed The Science On Risks, While Making Customers Addicted To Their Phones
What Might Explain The Unhappiness Epidemic?

The Conversation

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

January 18, 2019

Today has several incarnations. The morning hours see high-spirited, joyful moods dominate. The vivacious Gemini Moon is complimented by Venus’ trine to Mars. Social life is pure fun. Mercury’s mid-afternoon conjunction with Pluto can have dark overtones…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2019

Learn Reiki to awaken your healing hands to care for yourself, your loved ones and pets. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (Master-Teacher) This one-day class covers the basic...

Cost: $150

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road, Suite B2
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

This class meets 4 times: January 13th, February 24th, March 24th, April 7th The Eclectic Institute of Aromatherapy and Herbal Studies offers a comprehensive hands-on training in the art and...

Cost: $625 plus a material fee of $50

Where:
Misty Meadows Herbst Center
183 Wednesday Hill Rd
Lee, NH  03861
View map »


Sponsor: Misty Meadow Herbal Center
Telephone: 603-659-7211
Contact Name: Wendy Snow Fogg
Website »

More information

With Amy Bernier In this empowering workshop we will explore the innate intelligence of our gut, “the second brain”. We will use yoga postures and breath work to refine our digestive...

Cost: $40

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 East. Hartford Ave.
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

Instructor:  Peyton Pugmire Adult level Come together in a warm and uplifting space to get creative, connect, and breathe! At each meeting, we will have fun making a meaningful craft...

Cost: $45

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Peyton Pugmire
Website »

More information

One of the most mysterious and magickal of the archangels, Uriel, has a variety of different and conflicting roles in angelic lore. In The Book of Enoch he is one of humanity’s advocates...

Cost: $45

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

World famous seminars (www.understandingofmusic.com) turns beginners into musicians, revitalizes and inspires even pro musicians.

Where:
Boston, MA


Telephone: (781) 599-1476
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

With Sherri Snyder-Roche. This yoga workshop will explore self-compassion, self-love and pushing through discomfort to help your recovery process. Recovery from divorce, eating disorders,...

Cost: $95 for 6 weeks or $17 drop in

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Deepen Your Practice DYP-30 Hour Yoga Alliance Course January–May 2019 5 Saturdays, 10am–4pm 1/19, 2/2, 3/30, 4/27, 5/18 Looking to deepen your practice but a 200 Hour training...

Cost: $599

Where:
KJ Fitness
Tewksbury, MA


Sponsor: Relax and Recharge With Chuck
Contact Name: Chuck
Website »

More information

January 19–20 With Patty Collinsworth Weekend class hours: Saturday, 10–5pm and Sunday, 10–5pm Learn how to open the Akashic Records for yourself and others in this...

Cost: $170

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

The Eclectic Institute of Aromatherapy and Herbal Studies offers a comprehensive hands-on training in the art and science of Aromatherapy. This course covers the...

Cost: $550

Where:
The Soul Purpose
1225 Gar Highway
Swansea, MA  02777
View map »


Sponsor: The Soul Purpose
Telephone: 774-264-1329
Contact Name: Jessica Kozak
Website »

More information

Join nationally known psychic medium/spiritual counselor, Diana Harris, for a mediumship gallery. Diana is a bridge – a conduit between heaven and Earth. Ms. Harris will answer your questions...

Cost: $70

Where:
private office
North Andover, MA  01845


Sponsor: Diana Harris
Telephone: 978-973-6637
Contact Name: Diana Harris
Website »

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags