The Anti-Entropy Edge

What can you do to counter the challenge of convenience?

Posted Nov 13, 2016

You’ve heard the current mantra: “Sitting is the new smoking.” We are a sedentary lot. Our inactivity…well, it’s become entropic.

Source: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Familiar with “entropy”? The first dictionary definition is a term in thermodynamics. Understanding it is way above my pay grade. But the second, sort of everyday life, definition is “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity.” The point at which everything comes to a standstill.

Which can be applied to oneself.

Synonyms? Deterioration, degeneration, decline, decomposition….It’s downright depressing.

So there we are, sitting all day—but it’s so much more than that. It turns out that all the “mod. cons” [modern conveniences—a quaint sort of 1950s description of apartments for rent] of our life end up backfiring on us. Yes, some things may be more convenient, but in the long run, they also become bad for us.

Any labor-saving device not only saves labor: in some ways, it diminishes our own capacity to do things. We outsource ourselves. That’s entropy. And entropy is so much easier. It’s seductive. And ubiquitous.

Look around you. Look at what you (that is, we) do—or don’t do. From the moment we get up in the morning until we hit the remote (perhaps the granddaddy of sedentariness). Or (hopefully) plug in the phone for the night. (And if we want to get a decent night’s sleep, neither the TV nor the phone is in the bedroom.) The electric toothbrush, often with two-minute timer—takes care of our teeth. Gee, we don’t even need to count! Yes, in some ways it’s more efficient than a regular toothbrush, but there goes a moment of fine motor exercise as well. (I’ll skip the part about not emptying the “night bucket”—that’s just too far back in history.) What’s involved in making—or not making—breakfast? Getting the kids up and ready for school? Getting to work? Sitting. Ah yes, sitting.

Even speed-dialing (who needs to look up a number and punch it in? and I’m not even going back to the not so long ago rotary phone), when your device can remember everything you need to know and one finger does the work of many. Or using a keyboard rather than the extra weight of pushing typewriter keys. Need to get up to go look for information? Or go all the way to the library? Or even try to remember something? Google at your service. Decreased physical effort. Decreased mental effort, too. The associational skills, the search in one’s own brain, the social skills of checking in with someone else…all lost in translation. And so it goes.

The quintessential emblem of our convenience attitude is, no doubt, the tendency not only to drive to the gym, but to look for parking as near to it as possible. As if physical activity only counts if you’re in a place designated for exercise.

What do we lose in the process and how can we re-adapt ourselves? How can we make use of these mod cons, these helpful aspects that encompass and surround our lives, to actually help us?

Here are some thoughts:

Make the counting count: Fitbits and similar wearable devices can do the counting for you. And furthermore, your device may reinforce your increased activity, often in subtle ways. Did you forget something upstairs? While grumbling, you can also enjoy adding those steps to your count for the day.

Make use of naturally occurring activities: We think of physical well-being as involving endurance or strength. We train for that. But—especially as we age—two other important components to our physical well-being become increasingly valuable: balance and flexibility. If you’re taking a bus or subway, practice standing without holding on (although having a pole nearby that you can grab is a seriously good idea). This gives you the opportunity to practice all those subtle proprioceptive muscles needed for good balance.

Turn adversity upside down: A friend has an untreatable form of anemia which leaves him exhausted, with very little physical energy. A practicing “connoisseur” of mindfulness, he uses this very real challenge as an opportunity: He makes use of those moments when he needs to bend down to really bend  fully. He straightens up gradually and deliberately.

Where’s Waldo? aka tuning in to your senses: Take a moment to pay attention to three things going on right now:

  • What you are seeing?
  • What you are hearing?
  • What you are feeling in your physical atmosphere?

This present-minded pause is a method used to help “ground” us when we’re highly distressed…but it’s also something that any of us can do at any time. It’s a way to re-focus and bring ourselves to the present moment.

Got some other ideas for ways to make more constructive use of life as it’s really lived? Feel free to contact me through my website.