Busy. If one word could describe our culture, that would probably be it. It's our perpetual complaint and our never-ending boast. Though most would not admit it, to be able to claim busyness means the speaker is fulfilled, popular, and happy. I read an article recently that said that technology, which replaces tasks that used to take much of our time (like washing the dishes or creating tests and worksheets) should have freed us up. However, it actually tends to make us busier.
For example, when I hear how teachers had to make tests by hand before computers, I am thankful for my laptop. I can create a test that looks great very quickly in Microsoft Word. However, this same technology raises the bar. Now I am expected to also create fabulously engaging PowerPoints. While there is more information for those PowerPoints thanks to the Internet, the Internet also gives me way too much information to choose from, eating up more of my time than if I had to present a lecture based on just one or two texts. So do we make our lives so complicated, and why do we boast of our busyness?
As I have observed people, I have found that there are three reasons for our busyness.
1. Being busy makes us feel important
I remember the slow progression in my own mind linking busyness with my own value and the value of my work. In high school, I thoroughly enjoyed my work. I poured time into the projects, papers, and books that I loved. By college, things became more competitive. 18+ hour semesters were seen as something to brag about. After all, you didn't want to be the one with too much free time. By the time I started working, I was always proud to be the last car in the parking lot at the end of a work day. Conversely, I hated when I had to leave early (whether due to an appointment or just the lack of mental energy).
It is hard to be the one who is always free. And it seems that anyone who takes time to create a handmade card or learn a new skill just for fun is judged as "having too much time on his or her hands." Being too busy to do the things we want makes us feel valuable, but this is deceiving.
2. The effects of busyness (money) make us feel important
This is probably the most obvious reason for our current culture of busyness. We sacrifice our time in order to have more money.
In "Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed," David Cain says,
We buy stuff to cheer ourselves up, to keep up with the Joneses, to fulfill our childhood vision of what our adulthood would be like, to broadcast our status to the world, and for a lot of other psychological reasons that have very little to do with how useful the product really is. How much stuff is in your basement or garage that you haven’t used in the past year?
3. Busyness is a cultural problem
As I mentioned earlier, technology does not free us up. Instead, it tends to raise the bar. In addition, we become an increasingly materialistic culture. Cain explains,
But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
At first, this seemed a bit conspiracy theory for me. So I asked an economics professor who had lived overseas what he thought. He told me that in one country, they had switched from work weeks that only gave one day off to work weeks that gave two days off because the economy was suffering. The economy boomed when people had more time to buy stuff.
So we live in a culture that thrives on busyness, and we ourselves like to think that we thrive on busyness. We like the money, and we ultimately feel important when we don't have the time.
But what do we lose through being so busy? And what is the solution? Stay tuned for part 2.