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Down Time

by Stephen Lautens


March 17, 2000

As I write this my phone is ringing, I'm doing my Internet banking and refilling the fax machine with paper.

How did we all get so busy? It seems like we're not happy unless we've filled every waking moment of our lives with something to do.

People eat their breakfast and check their voice mail on the drive to work. The ATM line is the perfect place to call an estranged relative or answer your pager. The opening credits for a movie is a great time to place your order for mutual funds.

What we've done is successfully eliminated the concept of spare time.

I remember my father sitting on the big green couch under a reading lamp for hours at a time, carefully going through the newspaper. It was as if time stood still. Or he'd just listen to music. It's amazing because all he was doing was listening to music - not try to balance his cheque book, made a stock trade on-line and become a real estate mogul with no money down, all at the same time.

Now, we're wasting valuable time unless we're doing six things at once.

Technology has given us some terrific benefits. I'm not knocking vaccines, airbags or N-Sync CDs. But there's something wrong when everyone has to have a website. (I'm guilty as charged.) Everyone feels they have to be an expert on the high tech stocks - otherwise how can you expect to be a dot-com millionaire by the age of twelve?

Electronic appointment books are being marketed for children, so they can schedule their play dates. No doubt they can also keep track of all the other six year olds' e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers. There's a TV commercial on right now where a little boy puts his playmates on a conference call. Probably good practice for the day when he has to eat his lunch at his desk with a phone in his ear.

Some of my best times as a kid were days when I had nothing planned. Nothing was sweeter than the first day of the vast summer holiday, without a single thing to fill it. My mother tried valiantly to get us off to camp, but I refused to go. I took goofing very seriously. Much to my mother's dismay, I never had any interest in hockey, soccer, or any other organized sport that made you get up early or lose any teeth.

Now when I get a few days off, it's so packed with errands and obligations that I'm worn out by Monday morning. Maybe it's just part of growing up. If it is, I don't recommend it to anyone.

Don't get me wrong. I like to be busy. But we've forgotten the need to slow down. We feel need to be connected all the time. At the grocery store, I see men wandering around with cell phones in their ears. They didn't have time to make a list, so the better half at home is saying yes or no to every item he picks up. The same with people in video stores, trying to pick a movie while the critic is on the other line.

So go ahead. Turn off the phone and have a nap. I guarantee the world will still be there when you wake up.

And it will look better too.


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