History doesn’t move in straight lines. It zigzags. Here’s where it seems to be zagging: toward a rethink of the hard-charging, high-tech, always-on culture that has imposed itself on the modern world. Let’s call it the Not Wired and Proud of It direction.
Exhibit A: Our cover story by Dan Wood on the growing embrace of “do nothing” vacations, meaning vacations that don’t feature kite-surfing through the Bering Sea or learning Mandarin in a two-week cram session or – and this is the most likely possibility – continuing to be a productive careerist via e-mail, cellphone, and teleconference even as the kids frolic in the nearby surf. These are vacations that are about vacating the workplace, freeing the mind, quieting the body, and enjoying the moment.
Exhibit B: A recent New York Times report on how even Twitter mavens and Pinterest honchos have discovered the pleasures of paper, pencils, face-to-face conversation, and the wonderful world that exists beyond the range of cell signals. They shut off their transponders at dinner and concentrate on the people sitting across from them instead of LOLing at text messages from other time zones.
Exhibit C: TheAtlantic.com’s report that “chick lit” about young women pursuing urbanist careers and rom-com antics – think “Friends” and “Sex and the City” (neither of which, honestly, I have ever watched) – have been eclipsed by novels about young women abandoning the bright lights and fast track for simpler lives, smaller towns, and more homespun fellas. Even daydreams, this seems to show, can be downsized.
That’s three examples, so this must be a trend – or at least a mild protest against the hyperconnected, hyperproductive, and just plain hyped-up world of hot new things – from consumer electronics to media sensations, political scandals to summer blockbusters. Time to slow down, many people seem to be thinking. Time to unhook from the Internet, catch our collective breath, grab a cane pole, gather wool (though not from specially bred
llamas at an Andean dude ranch).
The not-wired movement may be nothing more than a rear-guard action against the blitzkrieg of busyness. Oh, there are true believers in it, among them the “neo-Luddites,” who run the spectrum from those raising gentle questions about a life out of balance (Wendell Berry: “There comes ... a longing never to travel again except on foot”) to those who want to throw a spanner into the entire techno-industrial machinery (Theodore Kaczynski).
But we’re talking here about mainstream folks, working Joes and Janes who just want time to concentrate on the here and now, think a little deeper, appreciate the wrinkles etched in a beloved face, and smell the newly mowed grass – even if they get right back into the game when time off is over.
This is not an argument for being unadventurous. The world is fascinating and should be explored. Museums are treasure houses. Visiting Prague, Paris, Kyoto, or the water slide in the next county can be excellent activities. Woodland trails are portals into other dimensions. I’m just saying that it might be better to scratch “sky diving” off the to-do list and pencil in ... nothing.
Ten thousand poems tell us to do this. Every naturalist urges it. And we all know it in our souls. First we have to put down our hand-held devices and stop doing something. Then we can do nothing – which may be more than we’ve done all year.
John Yemma is editor of the Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.