Several years ago, I made a conscious decision to break away (as much as possible) from the American consumer culture. I felt like a cog in the machine, and I knew that the machine of our disposable culture doesn’t give a damn about anyone’s personal, subjective individuality. It’s brutal, but we are only valued to the extent that we are productive. It’s spiritually depressing.
I was intrigued to read this article in Slate about how so many of us actually value and exaggerate our busyness. This is one of those articles that surprised me at first, but on deeper reflection, it makes sense. In a culture where we are valued for our production capabilities, it is little wonder that we exaggerate how busy we are. This exaggeration is so complete that we even fool ourselves and stress out over being busier than we really are.
Being busy has a certain glamour to it.
…busyness of a certain kind..became a mark of social status, that somewhere in the drudgery of checklists and the crumpled heaps one could detect a hint of glamour. “My God, people are competing about being busy,” Burnett realized. “It’s about showing status. That if you’re busy, you’re important. You’re leading a full and worthy life. … As if you don’t get to choose, busyness is just there. I call it the nonchoice choice. Because people really do have a choice.”
According to sociologist John Robinson, our busyness is actually fabricated, an illusion to make ourselves feel valuable. The way to combat this, says Robinson, is to simply recognize that we aren’t busy…
At some point in her journey through time, Schulte attaches herself to John Robinson, a sociologist known as Father Time because he was one of the first people to start collecting time use diaries, which became the basis for the American Time Use Surveys that tell us so much about how we live…
Robinson doesn’t ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are. And our consistent insistence that we are busy has created a host of personal and social ills which Schulte reports on in great detail in her book—unnecessary stress, exhaustion, bad decision-making, and, on a bigger level, a conviction that the ideal worker is one who is available at all times because he or she is grateful to be “busy,” and that we should all aspire to the insane schedules of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
“It’s very popular, the feeling that there are too many things going on, that people can’t get in control of their lives and the like,” Robinson says. “But when we look at peoples’ diaries there just doesn’t seem to be the evidence to back it up … It’s a paradox. When you tell people they have thirty or forty hours of free time every week, they don’t want to believe it.”
This article makes sense to me. It’s also sad. There’s really so much more to life than constantly needing to find meaning and purpose in a maddening matrix of manufactured activity. We miss out. And the world misses us, too, because the same culture that commodifies our lives is also commodifying and destroying the natural world, polluting the environment, and cashing in on poverty by building sweatshops and plantations in poor areas of the globe. These and other atrocities are hidden in plain sight, but who has time to deal with it? Who has time to care? Plugged into the matrix of perpetual activity, we lose perspective, and our lives fail to meet the true challenges of our day.
On the contrary, to unplug from the matrix, to see through the illusion, and to order one’s life in a more spiritually healthy way, we open up inner spaces to engage reality in a deeper way. This is the work of the Kingdom of God, as taught by Jesus. It is the way of paradox, in which one gains life by losing one’s life.
Here is the above quoted article. I’d recommend giving this short article a reading: You’re Not as Busy as You Say You Are