Yesterday was another fun evening spent at Chapters – I went there to finish reading a very fascinating book, Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper. This is a fictional tale, of course, but it so perfectly captures our lives that it may have, to a certain realistic extent, have really happened.
It made me realize how much of our day we spend in the present. Is there even any time that is fully devoted to the present moment? We, or at least the new generation, have gotten so used to multitasking- working while checking our calendars and sending a text message and planning what we will have for dinner and where our next destination is on our to-do list- that we are mentally, at any given moment, in practically every possible time period except for the present. People don’t need to invent time-machines; their brains already remove them from the present far too often! By getting “wired” into the world, we are detaching ourselves from it. We look at screens, not what is around us. We get obsessed with counting time, and forget to savour it and put it to some good use.
“When you are measuring life, you are not living it. I know.” – Dor, The Time Keeper, page 208
The above is one of the most memorable lines from the book, as far as I remember. Why did we start measuring life in the first place? I suppose it is to try to fit more into it. More what? Can anyone tell me? I know people who try to divide their day into segments and allott a productive task to each segment so that they don’t have any slot that cannot be considered helpful or time-efficient. They seem miserable. They are terrified of letting life pass them by, but they remove any sense of spontaneity from it. They decline get-togethers with friends where they could have some fun, because they are too frightened of letting a day go by where they can’t study or try to wring more and more out of their day’s work. It is apparent that letting go of this obsession, or at least subduing it for the most part, would be beneficial. If nature had intended us to be so time-stricken, we would have been born with watches nailed to our wrists, and with the time projected across the sky!
I’m not saying we should throw all our goals out the window and resort to a vagabond life with a conscious obliviousness. It is very well to want to make good use of time, and to try to organise it for that purpose. Yet still, most of us who do use that technique find ourselves wailing over time lost rather than celebrating how much we have accomplished. We count time, and we count it from the couch, or whatever other place suits your procrastination best. Maybe it is so draining that we know longer feel much energy to put it to good use. I think that the answer to making our lives productive, yet not obsessed with running about and squeezing more into each minute, is not to count time and try to divide it all among our activities but to remove things that make it quietly slip away with nothing valuable added to our day. Let’s be honest, how long do we really spend on Facebook when half an hour ago, we had sat down with the intention to study, or finally crack open that foreign language book? Once those are out of the way, perhaps we may finally be free to be at peace with time yet employ it usefully still – we will be focused on our true goals, and at liberty to pursue them, we will get things done without fretting over “how long“, “how much“, and “what time“. Is playing on our phones, watching TV commercials, listening to this and that celebrity scandal on the radio, is it all really worth that much to us? Because something tells me that there would be less remorse hanging around if it were.
I am tying this a little too much into (what is in my opinion) the redundant use of technology, compared to how much this topic actually weighs into the book. In truth, there is very little mention of technology being the cause for the main characters’ misconceptions of time, and it is not. My motivation for expanding on this subject comes from other literary sources: I still have Alan Lightman’s Prisoners Of A Wired World essay fresh in my head (I’ve read it just last week), and strangely enough, I feel as if the two ought to be tied together. Certainly, time keeping became common much before modern technology did, although the latter definitely advanced the former. I think that it is not infrequently discussed how living in the moment is important, and that we should all put our electronic gadgets away once in a while, but many of us don’t realize when we are under their spell in the first place. I really admire my friends who forget their cell phones at home more often than not, as if they didn’t matter much- and they don’t. I have taken to carrying mine everywhere with me. If I leave it at home, I feel like I will find myself in some situation where I will desperately need it’s use and find myself short of it, and fret so much over these slippery-slope possibilities that I can barely get myself to stop clutching it. This is the sort of burden that comes with technology, and one that humanity has once had the benefit of living without. Jane Eyre, in Charlotte Brönte’s novel, only hears that her uncle wants to meet her three years after he solicits her presence. Surely, this is not really a fortunate incident, but comparably to how fast we seem to want to do everything, it really seems like we have tilted to a bit of an extreme.
Once we get too used to sending texts rather than speaking, it even starts to feel odd to receive a warm smile in greeting instead of an emoticon, and we no longer know how to react when we are met with authentic tone and expressions rather than the ones that we ourselves attribute to the texts we receive. Alan Lightman said in his essay that emails (and I extend this quote to texts also) are very impersonal, and in fact, they tell us more about our own mood and tone at the moment of reading than the writer’s, because we are the ones that have to attribute the tones and expressions that form 91% of communication in real life.
When I got my phone, I was happy to know that I can text my friends unlimitedly. Now I think that I would be better off without that concession. It would force me to seek their actual company. We think technology will help us get further, get things done faster, but really, it is just a big distraction. It begins to replace things that are real and authentic and out-there in the world, and sooner than later, we will begin to forget about the world as it exists. It’s kind of ironic that I’m typing this on a computer, but at least I am focusing entirely on my task and aware of what I am doing, instead of talking to five different people on five different gadgets. If we cannot eliminate technology from our lives (and I think that the effects of that would be far worse than the benefits) I think we should at least turn it off when it comes to our friends. After all, your friend is not the phone – and I think he/she would value a face-to-face meeting much more than digital “hello”.