I have a confession to make. I thought that technology was supposed to make our lives easier so we had more time to, well, live. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be the case. I am as guilty as the next guy. My smartphone is never far from my hand. It is one of the first things I check in the morning, and the last thing I check before I go to sleep. There are so many moving parts to life these days, it seems almost impossible to keep on top of everything. The question I have to ask is do we really need to keep up?
There is a direct correlation between the speed of technology and the speed with which we live our lives. Some of us may remember a time when there was no email. We actually relied on the postal service to deliver messages. Yes, it took more time. Yes, we had to wait for a response. But when we received a letter, as they were called then, the message was much more personal. It meant something that the person actually sat down and took the time to put pen to paper (or paper in the typewriter). Even more impressive was the fact that they then had to leave the house to mail the letter. It wasn’t just click and be done.
I still have a letter my father sent me while he was battling Parkinson’s disease. It was a short thank you note, but he took the time to write it. His frustration with his fingers was evident, but he wrote it just the same. I read that note every year. Yes, he could have emailed me, but words on a screen wouldn’t bring him back in the same way as holding that paper in my hands does.
It’s just one example of how our expectations increase with the speed of technology. Now we expect an immediate response from an email. Even email can be too slow. Texting is a much faster way to get an answer. As the speed continually increases, so does the level of stress that permeates our lives. Even when we try to relax, perhaps taking a walk to relieve some stress or anxiety, most of us take our cellphones. The idea of a vacation without contact from the office is almost unheard of these days. We all move so quickly and have so many different responsibilities vying for attention that the idea of disconnecting is now a thing of the past.
I may be crazy, but I think if you are on vacation and lying on a beach, perhaps you don’t need to check your email. Besides, what happens if you get sand in your keyboard? Although I don’t always practice what I preach, I do believe that just because you can always be available, doesn’t mean that you should always be available.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, you might want to try slowing down. Now, I know that slowing down isn’t easy. As a matter of fact, the whole idea tends to go against the concept of how we currently define success. Perhaps if we shift our focus from how much we can get done in a day to improving the quality of how we live that day, we may find our definition of success changes accordingly.
Here is a way to slow down, reduce stress, and actively try to find more enjoyment in each day. It is described by David Hochman in an article which appeared in Spirit Magazine.
The first step is to savor the moment. Yes, I know we are supposed to do that, but few of us do. Most of us rush through the day with a nod to the sunny weather or a glance at the yards just coming into bloom. We seldom take the time to really look at what is around us and appreciate it. More importantly, we focus on the problems of the day. That’s not a bad thing–actually, it is the way we are wired. However, if we can reframe situations, turning negative issues into growth opportunities or perhaps putting the issue in perspective, we can appreciate the day as we experience it and not simply move through it.
My own favorite step is to listen to your inner clock. Find the speed that works for you. We do not need to get caught up in the 4G speeds for every aspect of our lives. Sure, some situations require immediate reaction, but how many do really? My guess is not so many. I tend to rush ahead, making contingency plans, back up plans, plan B’s. Pulling back and focusing on what is happening at that moment–not what might happen–is one of the hardest things for me to do. But when I can do it, I usually find that I have been speeding up, starting to multi-task, and not giving the individual task at hand the attention it deserves. Making dinner might be a chore, but I can enjoy it a lot more if I am not on the phone and watching the news while stirring the pasta sauce. That speed may not work for everyone, but it works best for me.
The next step is to put others before technology. Put down the phone, the tablet, and close the computer. I bet there are people in your life that you would like to connect with on a face to face level, especially if they live in the same house as you do. We spend so much time tied to our technology we forget the value of real-time encounters. I love Facebook, but really, it is a time-suck. I could do so much more if I wasn’t checking for status updates or Twitter feeds. Technology has its place, but that place doesn’t have to be at the dinner table. Take the time and connect with the person, not just checking their profile to see if everything is okay.
The final step in the slow process is a great way to put things in perspective. Ask the question, “Will it matter a year from now?” Just how important is the recent trauma? Will it change your life? Will you even remember it next year? Personally, I know many of the things I thought were vital really didn’t matter in a month, yet they took all my attention and energy at the time. Kind of a waste, really.
On the flip-side, I take my mother to Kona every year. She is eighty-five, not stable on her feet, and tends to live in her own world. Is it convenient for me to stop my life for a week? No. Will it matter next year if I do it? Absolutely. Just because I am trying to slow down does not mean I am focusing on me. Slowing down is really about deciding on what is important, not what is easy or convenient. Just as my father’s thank-you note may not have been easy for him to type, it was important for him to send. I’m not sure if he knew how much that letter would mean. Taking Mom to Kona is not easy, but I do know how much it means.
So that is the guideline for slowing down. Savor, Listen, put Others before technology, and Will it matter in a year. If you feel you are moving too fast and not getting enough out of life except perhaps a strong retirement account, you may want to join the Slow Movement. It’s not easy, so I suggest you start small. Maybe for a week, or just a weekend. Does it change your perspective? Will you get more enjoyment out of each day?
Once you get over the speed withdrawal, I’ll bet the answer to both those questions will be yes. So contrary to the latest cellphone provider commercial, I’m going to say that slow is–in fact– better than fast.
Of course, that is all a matter of perspective.