‘HOW ARE YOU?’ If you answered ‘busy’ (or words to that effect) you’d be part of the majority. Everywhere we look, be it our colleagues, our friends, or our family, they are all busy. There are some very good, objective reasons for this busyness. In addition, however, busy can be thought of a lifestyle choice. I am here to argue the case for not being busy.
BUSY AS A BRAND It’s hard to explain the race to turn on phones and PDAs as a plane lands as describing the objective need each person has to collect their emails or messages. Busy has become a demonstration of our importance to the world around. Busy is aspirational. Busy is a brand.
BUSY AS AN EXCUSE As we interact with those around us we constantly go through a process of identity negotiation. This process helps both parties to get to know each other, but also to understand what we can expect from each other. Busy has become a wonderful way to reduce social obligations. After all, ‘I’m sorry I’m busy’ means, more or less, ‘Go away and leave me alone’ (just not quite in those words!).
BUSY AS ENTERTAINMENT (OR ADDICTION) Perhaps the most powerful driver of busy is the desire for stimulation, for entertainment. It drives us to fill our time, staying connected at all times, revelling in our productivity. Busy can be quite a buzz. In fact, busy can be addictive. Edward Hallowell and John Ratey from Harvard have found that feeling constantly connected via phone and email provides something like the ‘dopamine squirt’ provided by addictive drugs.
WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM? The brain is simply not built for constant busyness. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry at UCLA, comments that while there can be a short term boost in energy and memory from busyness, long term it can lead to depression and impaired cognition. I’m with T.E. Lawrence when he said ‘Mankind has been no gainer by its drudges’. In a world overloaded with activity and information we don’t needmore ‘doing’, but more integration, more intellectual ambling, more sense making. In short, more thinking. Oscar Wilde bemoaned the fact that people kept asking ‘What are you doing these days?’. Even in his days he felt there was too much focus on activity over reflection. He felt the only civilised question to ask any educated person was ‘What are you thinking?’. Busy is not just a result of the demands on you, busy is a choice. So is thinking. So…what are you thinking?