Poet W.S Merwin, “The idea is that the faster you do it, the more you accomplish. But that’s not true. The faster you do it, the more you are expected to provide and so the speed becomes a kind of slavery.” (Catherine Richardson, Merwin Interview, Princeton Alumnae Weekly)
Last weekend I attended a conference in New Orleans and spent some time doing research in the hotel room. High speed was available for $24 dollars/3 days but the regular service was perfectly quick. It made me think about how tempting it can be to go for the faster option even if it only saves a couple of minutes. Why?
Well, super-busy people may make excellent use of extra minutes, but perhaps it is also about maintaining an inner rush. If we are hyper alert to the ever-faster option, our adrenaline keeps pumping. It is as if there is a ubiquitous addiction to quickness in our culture. Taking it slow might make you feel disconnected, bereft, idle, anxious or as if you are missing out.
During this trip, I recalled how in med school (Alton and I trained in New Orleans and lived there from 1985-1994) I spent delightful afternoons walking from Tulane to the French Quarter, drinking café-au-lait and browsing Decatur Street. This time as I walked down Decatur, I answered messages on my smart phone. It seemed a strange idea to have once walked without accomplishing anything.
So what is the point? While it is great to have distractions and connectivity at your fingertips, many people bemoan a load of messages. People worry that if answers are not prompt, someone will be miffed or an opportunity will be lost. More than a few clients or friends take social media timeouts when they feel overwhelmed. Excess stimulation makes them feel stressed, lost or as if they are swept away. They say good-bye, for a while. The check out is a not personal rebuff. It’s a biological need.
Researchers and psychologists from William James to Freud to David Elkind who wrote The Hurried Child purport that the mind needs a break. We require emptiness, nothingness, a blank space and a still, quiet moment to re-group and feel balanced. Pleasure, joy and creative possibility emerge from a white canvas
but first you have to get used to it.