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From Technology to Philosophy

17th Jul 18

words by Ann Halstead

Last week I spied a magazine, well more of a booklet really in a coffee shop.  Entitled 'Idler' it’s not one I’ve ever seen before and as I scanned the cover, the words “DO LESS, THINK MORE – The Cure for Workaholism is Philosophy” leapt out and virtually smacked me across the chops.  You see, yes I am a workaholic, I love my work so for me living and breathing what I do has become second nature since we opened the centre 3 years ago.  Curiosity got the better of me and I began to scan the pages of an essay written by a Mr Andrew Smart.  It starts:

“As our society hurtles toward an increasing uncertain fate, leisure is disappearing from Earth faster than animal species.  Here I use leisure in the broadest possible sense …  in the sense of the Greek word schole, ‘a state of being free from the necessity of labour’.  In ancient Greece schole also meant the search for wisdom and a way of life understanding the intimate relationship between idleness and philosophy, a view shared with the Vedic philosophies of ancient India.  Both these ancient philosophies emphasized that true happiness can only be achieved through philosophy or in other words, spending time alone with ones thoughts.  How often do we do that? How often  do we sit without any form of distraction – the TV, music, a magazine, a book?  When did you last allow your mind to ponder rather than worry or plan or be engrossed by something external?   Andrew continues: “We have entirely lost the ability to find pleasure in thought and in fact we are discouraged from doing so … but it turns out that finding pleasure in thought is not only fun, it is also the best treatment for anxiety, depression and even ADHD or OCD.  These disorders are in fact nothing but the inability to find pleasure in thought”

The article continues on the vein of corporate culture and how ‘the heroes of our society are not the philosophers but billionaires who are devoted to enriching themselves regardless of the consequences for the environment or the rest of society’ and as I looked around the café, dismayed with how many patrons were lost in their phones and not conversation or thought, I wondered…

What is it that makes us so terrified to reflect? Why do the majority stare into their phones at every opportunity, frantically tapping away. With complete incredulity, we slowly edged towards one bloke in B&Q car park recently who was crossing in front of oncoming traffic, seemingly unable to release his gaze on his screen.  As he very nearly walked into our car, totally oblivious, he briefly tore his eyes away from his phone and looked surprised to find us there. Just as quickly he refocussed on it and promptly side stepped into another car. My comment shall remain unrepeated ;-)  What is this drug that captivates us so? Why are we choosing to live in a virtual reality in the midst of this beautiful planet of ours?  Gone are the days of being uncontactable, of leaving work at a set time and not giving it a second thought until we are in the next day, of bosses only contacting us within working hours instead of intruding into days off (thankfully I no longer have to suffer this but I know others who do). Instead we are available virtually 24/7 and what untold stress this causes.  The addiction that is the scourge called social media causes such misery, it is an energy sapper and an unsatiable devourer of time. Whilst I plead it steals your soul,    I confess, I love social media in small amounts when I can laugh with friends and take pleasure in their photos or news but for many it’s like the return of the playground bully, a never ending popularity contest or click bait, it draws you in and keeps you a scrolling prisoner. Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, anxiety is the new buzzword.  Ping! You receive a message or text and feel immediately compelled to reply despite it not being particularly convenient or even socially acceptable because if you don’t the person at the other end may think you’re ignoring them.  Really!? Or you receive a text just to let you know they’ve sent you an email – eh? Are we no longer allowed to view our emails at a more appropriate time? Messages flash up on the phone and if you're not quick enough to comprehend their source, you are left frantically searching - was it a text, a message, an email, a WhatsApp, a Tweet, an Instagram? Where the heck is it?  Maybe that's just my age! I’m old enough to remember snail mail, you know send a letter and if you were lucky you might receive a reply in a week or two.  Now I’m not suggesting we wait a week or two to reply, but a day or two unless it’s urgent shouldn’t be presumed as ‘there’s something wrong’ yet I’m as guilty as the next with this compulsion to reply, brain-washed by the Facebook business page ideology that you must reply instantly to messages or you are not worthy of a: ‘replies within seconds badge’ merely a meh: ‘replies within days’ insinuating that you are completely inefficient if you are not glued to your screen all the time day or night. What happened to living a simple, uncomplicated life?

We seem to have lost all sense of boundaries thanks to this state of constant availability. What if we started to return to the old fashioned way?  What if we could take a step back and begin to be the change we wish to see? This last weekend, I had a project I wanted to work on.  I had 2 whole days in which to focus and I made the conscious decision to leave my phone out of reach and out of ear shot.  Do you know what the result was?  Two days spent marvelling at how much time I had.  The delight of looking at my watch and being astonished that it was far, far earlier than I was expecting.  Every time I looked at it, I had to check, had the battery run out? Had my watch stopped?  No?  What had stopped was me being on call.  I used the time to reflect, to create, to slow down and to exist moment by moment and I remembered; each and every one of us is not that label that’s put upon us – mother, father, aunt, uncle, daughter, son, child, friend, job title etc,  those are simply ‘roles’ which we don’t have to play out 24/7.  We are ’be’ings and we can simply ‘be’ it is allowed, honest! In fact it should be more than allowed, it should be mandatory!

So back to the subject of workaholism, back to the notion that if you’re not ‘doing something’ then you are idle or lazy or even selfish if you dare to take some ‘me’ time.  I propose a rebellion!  Investing time in yourself, away from any form of distraction, is time very well spent.  Your health, your happiness depends on it!  Here’s what I propose:

  1. Ditch the electronics for a minimum of an hour a day, better still a full day at least once a week!  Resist the urge ‘to check’. Sit with the initial discomfort and see it through – it’s an addiction remember.
  2. Give your mind time to be creative. 
  3. Lose yourself in thought, the wonderous kind.
  4. Refuse to be drawn into drama, especially anyone else’s.
  5. Loose the notion that you are the ‘fixer’ – the world won’t stop turning because you're not immediately available.
  6. Go ‘awol’ for a day – ok so let others know that you are deliberately uncontactable and let them know when you’ll be back, so that they don’t worry.
  7. Drop your label(s) and be you, at least for a while.
  8. Liberate your time – you are in charge of it, no one else, Do not give in to any ‘non-life-threatening demands’
  9. In company in a cafe or restaurant, ban phones at your table - look into the eyes not a screen.
  10. Go and play, do something you love, undisturbed by anything other than interaction with real people.

It’s up to each and every one of us to make a difference.   Let's appreciate the world around us, let's take the time to reconnect with ourself, remember who we are, drop the need to 'follow' or 'be followed' unless you've four legs, a woolly coat and a bleat. Be present and most importantly:  "Be yourself, everyone else is taken". Oscar Wilde

Ann x

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