I remember reading "Weekly Reader" magazines when I was in elementary school 50 years ago. The pages were filled with gadgets or ideas for gadgets that were either not yet invented or not available to the general public. There were telephones that operated without cords, and telephones that had little screens on which you could actually see who you were talking to and they could see you. During that time the comic-strip character Dick Tracey had a two-way wristwatch radio and the novelty of the device fascinated readers of the comic strip for many years. We watched Flash Gordon and Rocky Jones Space Ranger on television long before there was talk of putting a man on the moon. The '50s brought wide-scale use of such things as sliced bread, individual pieces of processed cheese, electric toasters, electric irons, electric razors, electric hot combs and curling irons, and a host of instant pseudo foods. No. I wasn't born in the Stone Age. I was a teenager during the Stoned Age with LSD, Timothy Leary, free love, free drugs, drop out, tune in, turn on, bell-bottom pants and the Jimi Hendrix experience that coincidentally coincided with Black power, dashikis, Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver, Huey P. Newton and LeRoi Jones around the time he became Imamu Amiri Baraka, but that is another story.
      When I was a young child, my mother straightened her hair with a steel straightening comb that she heated up over the flames of the gas stove, and she curled her hair with a metal curling iron that she also heated up on the stove. She invariably burned her ears in the process but that was part of the deal. We had an electric clothes iron, but I distinctly remember a very heavy clump of iron crudely shaped like a modern-day iron that my grandmother used for a door stop. In the days not too long before I was born, that iron was heated up on a stove and used to iron clothes.
      The point of this little nostalgia trip is that the underlying benefit of all these labor-saving devices was that families would save time and by saving time they would have more time to spend together doing the kinds of non-hurried, relatively hassle-free things that remind families that they love each other and enjoy being together in the absence of the things they have to do in order to survive. I think that the term  "leisure" is an apt description of this essential non-urgent mode.
      But things took a nasty turn somewhere along the way to the point where leisure became a dirty word. Too many of us are running at full-speed just about all the time. It's almost as though we can't stand the silence which is the place where our true selves reside. Instead we heap on new activities, buy more things, accelerate the already ridiculously fast pace in an attempt to avoid ourselves and we take our children and everyone around us for a ride on the tail of this tornado. Where are we hurrying to, and what will we do when we get there? A more important problem may be that we often define the next destination before reaching the one in front of us. We live in the past and the future while the present is just a blur -- barely observed scenery on the way to the next stop.
      How many times have you been driving and passed by an angry driver who blows his horn, shouts something at you through his closed window, and gives you the finger while speeding around you -- only to have his car sitting right next to yours a couple of stoplights down the road? He is irate and his blood pressure is likely through the sun-roof while you calmly turn up the volume on your Nancy Wilson CD, because you made a conscious choice to not enter his race that day.
      I am trying to make a case for the necessity of being variable-speed. There are times when hurrying is required, there are times when it is O.K. to load up on stuff at the local retail establishment, labor-saving devices are fine and dandy and there is nothing wrong with partaking of assorted entertainment drivel from time to time. Just remember that these things fail miserably at filling the void and that void is this very moment -- the only wisp of time that we are guaranteed. Make friends with silence. The acquaintance will make life that much sweeter -- the way a home-cooked meal satisfies in a way that fast-food cannot begin to touch.
      We've squandered the time saved with labor-saving devices and innovations and filled in the space with more stuff, bigger stuff and faster ways to communicate our collective emptiness. Who needs a music system that stores 1,000 songs when we totally miss the nuances of just one song because we are so busy rushing off to hear the next? Does an instant email message really satisfy the way a letter would? Does a fast-food mega meal fill you the same way dinner at Mother's house  used to? What's the rush? Where are we hurrying to?
      It can be argued that time and how we use it define who we are and what we value. There is   enough stress and tension in life without adding our own and that's just what we do. For example, look at the way many of us schedule things. Let's pretend that there are 10 hours in a work day and a finite number of things that will be accomplished in that time. Let's further assume that experience has taught you that you can make it to about six appointments a day. If this is the case, why schedule nine appointments? Why make a reasonable commitment unreasonable? Things happen.      Trains back up traffic. Directions are misunderstood. Tires go flat. Personal and work lives sometimes compete for our attention. If your personal experience shows that you can make six appointments a day, why schedule more unless you feel that you don't deserve to breathe? You  deserve to breathe and it is not a good idea to hyperventilate with every breath. Consider slowing down. You just might find that you accomplish more.
Simple Things/Lang Kenneth Haynes
                     More, more, bigger, faster
May 16, 2007 Archives