Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Days Are Just Packed

This is one of those articles I'd had sitting up on my desktop in a browser window for several days -- hesitating over whether blogging about it would be too great an irony given the subject matter. I suppose I'm actually more unplugged than many these days. I carry an old-fashioned flip phone, so although I can be rather reclusive at large gatherings I will not be the one you see bent silently over an iPhone, tapping away. Though I sometimes feel like, for want of time, most of my interaction with people who are outside my immediate family is via facebook, email, blog, etc., I have at least not reached the point where I compulsively check these while on the run. I don't have an iPad or Kindle yet, though I'll admit my keep wishing I had an excuse to justify the expense. And I continue to hold out against twitter, though this is perhaps an empty virtue given that I'm clearly too verbose for it anyway.

This is of little help in that my work puts me in front of a computer for 9-10 hours a day, and at home the computer is always on and available. A walk through the living room seems to necessitate a quick check to see if "there is any news" in the form of a new email or something going on on Facebook. At work, "taking a break" often means pulling a web browser up over my Excel window for a few minutes "browsing around". And when I have busy-work of some sort to get through I often end up listening to a podcast or audiobook while working.

And while I can at least claim to actually cover territory (walking, jogging or cycling outside in the real, non-air-conditioned world) or lift real weights while exercising -- I often do so while listening to an audiobook or music.

It's not so much even the desire to be entertained all the time, but rather the flailing sense that there is never enough time. It's hard to read even a portion of the books I'd like to have the chance to get through, and I don't get to spend time in person with friends as often as I'd like, and so I find myself trying to cram bits of reading and social interaction into smaller and smaller pieces of what would otherwise be spare time.

Though I can't help wondering to what degree this destroys time rather than optimizing it. For all that listening to Shelby Foote's monumental Civil War, A Narrative for an hour while covering four or five miles at a walk allows me to feel like I'm not "wasting" the time that needs to go into keeping my body from completely atrophying into an appendage of my desk, I wonder sometimes if I waste equal amounts of time with repeated five minutes checks of facebook, blog comments, etc. at intervals far closer than is necessary -- simply because it's a brief exercise that fits well into moving from one task to another on the ever-present computer. (Or perhaps more honestly -- serves as a timewaster during the 5-10 minutes I put off moving to the next task.)

A while back, a friend got me to take a couple hours out of a weekend morning to go play ultimate frisbee for a couple hours despite the Texas heat, and I was struck by how different it is, mentally, to spend some time doing physical activity without simultaneously having your brain engaged in some unrelated, information-based task. It was something so mentally refreshing I know in my heart I should find some way to commit to doing that sort of thing much more often. And yet, that would mean giving up time to just one thing...


BettyDuffy said...

I'm impressed that you can keep your online checks to the allotted five minutes. I've had to cut out the five minute checks and wait to do online stuff until I know I've got time to blow, because I always end up blowing it regardless of whether or not I have the time...leaving comments like this one, for example.

Been questioning myself a lot lately, wondering if this online world is all it's cracked up to be, community and all, or if it really is primarily a distraction from the work I need to do of going more deeply into other things.

You and I have discussed elsewhere whether or not it's possible to write a story about Catholic families just going about their lives, when there seem to be so few conflicts to give the story interest. I'm starting to think that those conflicts are there, they really are, but that the blog or whatever, gives us the perfect outlet to solve little, non-immediate conflicts, conflicts that don't really matter in the big scheme of things, and to do it all in one minute or less, and feel like we've accomplished something. Meanwhile, do I really progress in my faith? Do I really address the deep-seated conflicts of being in exile, as every Christian must be? Nah--that's the work of a novelist, or a contemplative, or someone who at the very least can turn off the damn internet, and get to work-- real, important, work.

I'm writing this comment for my own little benefit, by the way, not in any way to indict you or your spiritual life, or internet usage.

Anonymous said...

As long as your prayer time remains intact I think you're free to "multitask" the rest of the time. I had been doing my rosary while running in the mornings but then felt convicted about that lack of full attention to prayer after reading something Fr Larry Richards wrote in his new book (which I highly recommend).

Darwin said...


For me, it's not the length of my look around (which is typically 5min or less) but rather the sheer frequency with which I do it. Sometimes I'll find myself doing the five minute look around after completing a five minute task, simply because I'm used to compulsively checking everything between tasks.

BTW, in re: You and I have discussed elsewhere whether or not it's possible to write a story about Catholic families just going about their lives, when there seem to be so few conflicts to give the story interest.

To refine my thinking on this a bit, I don't think it's so much that there aren't conflicts, but that the conflicts are so specific as to be uninteresting as fiction.

I wonder if this is partly tied to my tendency to read a lot of older or period fiction. For instance, Trolope (whom I very much enjoy) tended to write about the foibles and conflicts of very ordinary people of his time and place, and I very much enjoy reading his novels, but I wonder if I'd enjoy a Trolope who wrote about 21st century characters in 21st century prose. It's not so much that I'm deeply fascinated by the professional and clerical classes of the mid 19th century in Britain, as that the different setting makes what would otherwise seem small or overly specific conflicts interesting.

Not sure if that's any clearer.


Well, the problem, such as it is, is that I fear it leads to a certain level of information overload and burn-out if one is always injesting information but never just being quiet and thinking it over.

Though in my current state in life, having any sort of "quiet" time is pretty tricky...

Your jogging reminds me of the joke about the monk who asks his superior if he can smoke while he prays, while the other asks if he can pray while he smokes. :-)

Foxfier said...

I think we're in the middle of too much change to think much about it.

Both of my parents have college degrees. Both of my grandmothers had professions outside of the home-- reporter and court stenographer. Both of my grandfathers were highly intelligent men, a banker and a bloody early twentieth century da Vinci. ALL of them thought while they did stuff.

I see the difference in how their children taught me to think and how my classmates were taught to operate-- they don't muse, wander around thoughts, try to figure stuff or play with ideas, by and large. If you bring it up, most of them will call you names-- a few will talk for a bit, and eventually you'll find that there's yet another way of playing with the ideas.

I think it may boil down to how different folks' minds work, and have nothing to do with some over-arching need for the human mind to have a set amount of daytime downtime at all.

TS said...

Interesting... I've been meaning to finish "A Geography of Time" by Robert Levine. You'd probably like it too.