"The average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, Nicholas Carr notes in his eye-opening book “The Shallows,” in part because the number of hours American adults spent online doubled between 2005 and 2009 (and the number of hours spent in front of a TV screen, often simultaneously, is also steadily increasing)...
The urgency of slowing down -- to find the time and space to think -- is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
...Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages.” Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” Thomas Merton struck a chord with millions, by not just noting that “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,” but by also acting on it, and stepping out of the rat race and into a Cistercian cloister...
We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And -- as he might also have said -- we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.
So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.
MAYBE that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation...
Other friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown, Mr. Carr points out, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.
In my own case, I turn to eccentric and often extreme measures to try to keep my sanity and ensure that I have time to do nothing at all (which is the only time when I can see what I should be doing the rest of the time)... I try not to go online till my day’s writing is finished, and I moved from Manhattan to rural Japan in part so I could more easily survive for long stretches entirely on foot... “
From "The Joy of Quiet", by Pico Iyer, The New York Times, December 29, 2011
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The hectic pace of modern life isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Things have been speeding up for a long time, and for many people the pace seems unsustainable.
It’s hard for us to imagine what life was like back when most human beings lived directly on the earth, without complex technologies, in tune with nature’s rhythms.
For many of us, the solution is to take vacations when we can – and/or to spend some of our free time hiking and communing with the natural world, where the pace of life is much, much slower. There’s nothing like nature to help us relax.
By leaving our cellphones and other devices at home, or at least keeping them turned off, our ability to slow down is greatly enabled. Staying plugged into the manic modern world virtually guarantees that our stress levels will remain high.
It seems increasingly clear that our wellbeing and perhaps even our sanity may require slowing down and unplugging regularly from the electronic/digital world.
Which is more easily said than done, of course. And that’s why venturing into the wilder places (where there often isn’t even a cellphone signal) is always helpful.
Hiking can obviously be done vigorously or in a more leisurely fashion. Either way it allows our nervous systems to slow down and gain a much-needed respite!
-- Charlie Cook