Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Now or Later

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


  1. Fran Kane4:56 AM

    "Bottom line: do what you love and you never regret a single second of the time and energy you spend on it."

    Excellent philosophy to live by.

  2. GREAT post. Wow.

    When I took a vacation and told my co-workers I would be largely unavailable, it was meant with scorn and sort of a "we-work-during-vacation" attitude. I remember thinking they could choose to unplug if they wished, but obviously didn't wish to. I love the suggestion of finishing things ... I'm feeling overwhelmed by my TBR pile right now: clearly I need to stop adding to it!

  3. I have a chronic health condition that requires me to watch my stress. One thing I started doing a month ago was to take Sundays off. No net, no toys, just me doing quiet things to enjoy the wonder of the world. I cook the favorite but fussy foods (homemade dark chocolate ice cream!), talk to people in real life, listen to a friend talk about what's going on for her, talk to my parents, sit outside, carefully prune my roses....

    It's spilled into little bits of quiet time here and there. I'm currently outside, sitting on a blanket under my oak tree, and in five minutes, my net time will be up. Then I'll lay down and look up at the clouds and see if they look like animals or dragons or quilt patterns. I got a wild hair and did some cloud spotting a few weeks ago--felt like a kid again. Then I'll go do some weeding in the garden (don't tell anyone, but I secretly enjoy it--it's a nice excuse to look at the flowers and think about stories).

  4. That's interesting, I was just thinking about this issue on my way to work.

    I've found I'm spending a lot of time reading emails and blogs, and trying to keep up with Twitter to develop that network everyone says you need established before getting your books published. By 10am there's 15 emails and 8 or 9 blog posts to read, and when I finish those, a few more have come in by 6pm that evening. In my effort to learn as much as I can about writing and publishing, I've - unintentionally- adopted a "study first, write eventually" habit.

    I'm still working out the balance, but your post helped me realize I need to reevaluate. Thanks.

  5. Anne V.10:51 AM

    Amen! I create my own jewelry, and all the advice seems to be about developing a client base using social networking. I've noticed that those things don't actually seem to increase my sales. I could spend all my time trying to drag in new customers, or I could keep making new items and selling them face to face. I'd rather spend all that time and effort creating and then talking with the people who care enough to actually talk with me at least once. Same applies to writing, you can spend all that time trying to drag people into your fan base, or you can get the work done and sell to the people who care.

  6. GMTA. I wrote a blogpost about this very issue just a few weeks ago. I try to spend time every day away from the virtual to balance out the sense of manufactured urgency all our notifications give. Thank you for the reminder.

  7. I prefer to talk to people either in person, or over the phone, though email is unavoidable. I don't text, am not a Twit, and though I have a Facebook page, I only use it to occasionally read someone's post (it really annoyed me that I couldn't read without joining).

    Between my blog, reading other blogs, writing, books, and the usual chores and stuff that make up a life, I don't have enough time in the day for anything else.

  8. I'm taking this to heart. Thanks.

  9. Thank you, thank you for the needed reminder.

    I do twitter and though I have many blogs in my Google reader, I skim the titles and only choose those few that I either read faithfully or look interesting enough to spend time reading. I don't comment as often on the blogs I do read regularly as I used to. I found while I was sick over last Christmas for a week that I could spend up to four hours a day reading, posting, tweeting, yada yada yada and I don't want to do that. I don't facebook because I can't figure the darned thing out and no one really wants to know that much about me anyway. I have tons of half done blog posts that I never finish because I'm tired by the time my workday is done. Clearly, I have issues ;o) But I rarely answer my phone after work (that's why I have caller ID) I don't 'phone work' on the weekend or on vacation, I have a life.

    Several years ago when we had the 'Great East Coast Blackout,' I had five days of total quiet (except for the two that all the neighbors ruined with their generators. Thank goodness the gas pumps didn't work and they couldn't buy more!) but no cars, no planes, no trains...reading by candlelight at night, waking with the sun. It was just glorious. I think everyone should get back to that occasionally. It's good for the soul.

  10. On the surface my life seems totally unscheduled and without boundaries, but physical limitations create a series of boxes within which I live my life. I can only sit totally upright without consequence for about 20-30 minutes. This means I need to put my butt in a recliner for the other 30-40 minutes before tackling the next upright task. I can stretch the upright time for special occasions but need to factor in recovery time the following day. I generally spend the recliner time reading books, writing reviews, working on knitting and crochet designs and watching the tube while I make samples for my design business,
    We just moved on July 4th to a wheelchair accessible apartment, and for the first time in about 8 years I can do most of the housework instead of depending on my husband. Our last home was not at all accessible.
    It is incredibly difficult to listen to the timer I set and STOP working at organization and keeping spaces clean and return to the recliner, and I found myself shortening the reclining time to my detriment.
    In looking back over the past two weeks, I realized I only ONCE took advantage of the best thing about this new home. I can use my electrical wheelchair to get out of the house on my own.
    After reading your post, I know I need to factor in some of that upright time to doing things purely for enjoyment: taking a jaunt outside with my camera, working on some art collage or art quilts (when my studio is set up) or just seeing how far I can get in the neighborhood with half a charge on the wheelchair.

  11. "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."

    So true. I had one of my bosses get rather upset with me the other day because they tried to call my home phone on a day off so I could cover a shift and I didn't pick up-then they realized I didn't have a cell phone number on my contact list. It's because I hate cell phones. He didn't believe that in this day and age someone didn't have a cell phone. It blew my mind when he said I was the only employee that didn't have one.

    I hate the intrusion technology has become. Driving is far more hazardous, shopping is a yellfest of people practically screaming out shopping lists and gossip, and everyone feels it's necessary to be available to everyone all of the time. I'm a customer service person at one job, and I hate it SO much when someone will come up and talk to me and when I try to reply they hold up a finger or ignore me (and I realize it was a bluetooth conversation).

    "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. "

    I haven't managed this yet. From thrift stores, garage sales, ubs and Hastings are books that I have yet to read piled on a few bookcases. I get about two bookcases finished a year, but I buy gobs more.

    "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 texted briefly when I had a job that required a cell phone, but never got the hang of it. I am on Facebook, but mostly for family and friends, and hate twitter for lowering peoples attention spans to only 140 characters. And while Facebook is being used as a tool by most major companies to promote something, it feels overwhelming. I'd rather read a blog and a bunch of responses than try to follow a conversation on Facebook between Lord knows how many different pages (plus I really dislike that people post their most private and completely personal information on Facebook-do I really want to know that so-and-so has cramps or whats-his-name just broke up with the latest flavor of the month?)

    I think in general the world is just moving lightening fast, and I like going at a snail's pace. Everyone is so concerned with the new gadget of the moment that there isn't any personal interaction going on. Sidenote-I just finished Forstchen's One Second After about an EMP and the world in crisis-very thought provoking.


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