I've noticed something about the times in which we live: we can get everything we want, often instantly, without leaving home. Need to talk to someone? Text or call them on their smart phone. Want to watch a movie? Get it on demand on your TV or by streaming download online. Need to gift shop? Buy from the internet and have it shipped to your house. Want a newly released book? Get it in five seconds by wireless download on your e-reader. Want a romance? Go to an online dating site and be "matched" with those most likely to appeal to your heart (or attend one of those speed-dating sessions and meet ten or twenty prospects in under an hour.)
It seems like everything we need has become or is becoming immediate and utterly convenient. Considering how volatile fuel prices are I think this is (somewhat) a good thing. Telecommuting jobs are becoming more available, too. Someday soon we might not need cars or a job away from home. One day we might not have to step one foot out of the front door for anything but our own pleasure.
If we have any time left for it, that is.
The downside to this right-now, can't wait, must-have culture of immediacy is less noticeable, but it's there, lurking in the shadows behind the touch pads and the one-cup coffeemakers. We have no time for ourselves anymore. All the time people save with these time-saving devices and services is spent doing more stuff rather than less.
Technology has made privacy and personal time obsolete. If you're not telling the world your thoughts and activities by the minute, or making yourself accessible to others 24/7, people actually become angry with you. They regard it as a form of insult. Ask someone to turn off their phone for a day -- just 12 hours -- and they'll likely tell you they can't. Someone might text them, and woe be on the head of anyone who doesn't text back immediately.
I've also observed that with so many choices to make everyone is becoming collectively indecisive. I think it's sheer confusion combined with mental exhaustion. With all the stuff you have to do, how can anyone keep it straight? Just think about what we do online. Have you checked your Twitter, your Facebook, your e-mail, your LinkedIn, your blog, your comments today? How many hours will you spend trying to keep up with all of it? How much defeat and guilt do you feel when you can't? I mean, hey, everyone else does it . . .
I don't, but even I fell victim to the culture of immediacy earlier this year when I allowed myself to be inundated by the must-have-it-now needs of others. Somehow I was persuaded to juggle two deadlines, a contract negotiation, a book production, a variety of domestic crises and various projects others needed me to do for them. As a result I didn't have time to update my events calendar, but I was sure I had everything straight in my head. I was so tired and frazzled that I didn't realize I'd inverted two dates in my memory. As a result I missed by one weekend one of my favorite annual events; one I have attended faithfully the last seven years. That was a sign to me that I needed to stop, think, regroup and reorganize my time, and weed out some of the unnecessary activities inflicted by others to focus on those that were important to me and my well-being.
Unless the planet is hit by a massive EMP I don't see it getting better anytime soon, so it's up to us to deal with this problem. If you find you're being stretched too thin by all that's expected of you, here are some suggestions on how to eliminate the unnecessary, make better decisions and take back at least some of all that time you're supposed to be saving:
Deviceless Day: We used to have these things called weekends, during which we were off duty and free to do pretty much whatever we liked. Remember those? I won't be so crass as to suggest we return to that lovely practice, but it doesn't hurt to choose one day each week to shut off all the phones, computers and other electronics and make it your personal Deviceless Day. To avoid affronting your coworkers, family and friends, let everyone know in advance that on that day you will not be available to them at all.
Live By the 1:2 Time Ratio: For every hour you give up to the culture of immediacy, reserve two hours for yourself. That means if you spend an hour tonight online updating stuff, you should spend two hours doing something that relaxes you or that you personally enjoy.
Narrow Your Choices: Often people have towering stacks of books, movies, CDs and games that they never read, watch, listen to or play because they can't decide what they want. Since you can get practically anything immediately it is tempting to hoard stuff. To combat this, use the finish-first approach by not buying new books or other forms of entertainment until you've finished your latest purchase. This is tough to do, but if you stick with it you'll find you spend less and enjoy more.
Ward off the Immediacy of Others by Making Decisions: Someone has to make a decision; it might as well be you. For example, I've always asked my family what they'd like for dinner, but often they couldn't give me an answer. Every night I had conversations like this: Italian? Maybe. Asian? Well . . . Burgers and fries? Hmmmm. Not sure. They tried at first to counter my question by giving me that Magic 8-Ball answer of saying they'd let me know later. And then they tried to wait to the very last minute. Since I happen to be decisive, and I'm running a home, not a restaurant, gradually I began ignoring their stall tactics and making the choices myself. When there were objections, I told them that anyone who complains about what I make is then given dinner-making duty for the next night. Now they either let me know what they want, or eat what I choose without a peep. Apply the same logic to any immediacy problem your family or loved ones present to you and you'll find it solves it rather quickly.
Work Your Passions While Accepting Your Limitations: For many reasons I am not suited to participating in social media; thus I have never texted, Twittered, Facebooked or any of that stuff. I know it can be fun, it's a decent promotional tool, and I would probably sell a few more copies of my books if I devoted myself to all the various aspects of it. I also envy other authors who handle it so well. That said, I understand that it's not for me, and I've accepted that unhappy fact. So I devote the time I would spend on it doing what I am good at it, which is writing books, talking about books, teaching, finding free resources and helping other writers when I can -- all the things about which I'm passionate and (unlike social media) that I love. By doing this I've inadvertently developed my own form of social media; this blog, the connections I've made through writer friendships and getting to know my colleagues in a less conventional manner. Bottom line: do what you love and you never regret a single second of the time and energy you spend on it.
Photo credit: David Hughes