A common weekend scene in my home: Son is gaming online with friends, then suddenly shouts, “Back real quick!” He tears off his headphones, races top-speed to the bathroom, pulls the door mostly shut, pees, and then races back—gasping, “I’m back!”
I shout, "Take your time!” Or, “Wash your hands!” I'm anxious. But there’s no time. He is a flash, a blur.
I need to do this thing but I don’t want it to interrupt our game, his actions say. I'm still here.
Of course, I do this too, when I say to friends, “Hey I will be right back!” I emphasize 'right,' like a plea.
I want a time warp: Please, let us stay here in this gathering, just like this—preserve this vibe like peaches we put up. Promise me that you’ll still be here, just like this, listening to me. It’ll be like I never disappeared. Just a blip. Okay?!
Like my son, I want to do both, pee and keep the conversation going. Everything. At once.
I fear that people will move on to the next shiny thing. That I'll return to an empty banquet hall. Too late.
Perhaps, if I hustled faster, I could do both at the same time, one thing in a different dimension and the other here, with you.
We are steeped in quickness. We try to outsmart it while valuing its promise like loyal Lotto ticket buyers.
We are constantly begging each other for patience, or attention—hoping that they'll wait for us—in the way we characterize our quickness:
Just sending a quick email.
Taking a quick shower.
Going for a quick run.
Perhaps our fear of abandonment issues are now global, as we watch each other's faces go blue, illuminated, waiting in line for coffee with bowed heads, praying together. Sort of.
What if popular expressions like, "I appreciate you" and "I see you" are symptoms of distress as we tussle with wanting to pee and keep the conversation going, to send the email and be on time for dinner? Are we sending up flares within this cacophony of material goods-gathering, choking on FOMO (a symptom of our mental health crisis)?
I get Slack messages at work that begin, “QQ—” Even the question form factor itself has become quicker! Linguistically, I love this example of form-meets-functionality but in a sad, resigned way. It’s well-meaning, no? It would be rude to waste each other’s time, right? Because time is—wait for it—precious. (Aren’t we missing the irony here?)
Less is More
“Believe it or not, it’s not only possible to accomplish more by doing less, it is mandatory.” That's from Tim Ferris’ anti-time management manifesto, The 4-Hour Workweek. Sure I own it. Total breath of fresh air, right? More with less! Sign me up. But, wait—it hinges on an unconscious, conditioned value that’s kinda driving us all mad: We think more is the brass ring.
What about enough?
4 min read vs. ReelFeel©
We now approach online articles like the opening and closing doors of the A/C/E train headed to 14th Street. Jump in or wait for the next train? This post is a 4 min read (literally): You got time? Is it worth it?
Wuh-wait, though. Why would we equate time and knowledge/entertainment/information? If I read something that opens my mind or gives me a quirky conversation tidbit to share with my son at dinner tonight, can I honestly measure that value in units of time?
What if, instead, we indicated what an article will feel like? We could adapt Acuweather’s RealFeel concept, their equation-based temperature system. (RealFeel says what the weather will feel like to us experientially—not what it actually is. Forget about reality!) Imagine "Read-Feel," a metric that indicates what an online article would feel like. You could decide to read an article based on its emotional value, not linear time.
Humans can task-switch, but we cannot multitask. We made that up. The human brain cannot do it. We needed science to give us that reality-check. Nevertheless we're so conditioned to believe that we can do more than one thing at a time, more with less, that we will ourselves to defy science.
For as long as we believe that more is better than enough, we'll keep at it. It's a frustrating equation, because time is fixed. (We hate that!) So the only leaver we've got—if we preference more over enough—is our output rate.
I suspect that words like “actually” and “literally” are in high use now as salves or air bubbles within a time distortion. We are gasping for that air—longing for a reality-check. In these moments we forget that gratitude is the life boat out of this swamp.
However Long it Takes
I catch myself saying quick-this and quick-that. All the time. And sometimes I take a moment to pause, breathe, and think: Do I really need to do this thing that I’m reflexively wanting to cram into my day? Am I doing more for more’s sake? I think of the red car that cut me off in traffic only to sit at the same red light with me a block later. What if I want to experience my days with some semblance of grace? Or be present for it? Or even luxuriate in depth and slowness?
I was on the phone with my health insurance company the other day. I wanted to find out why a claim was rejected. Just before the customer service rep put me on hold, they said, “One moment while I look that up.”
Just thirty seconds later they came back on to say, “Thank you for your patience. I’m still retrieving the information. I’ll be just another moment.”
Then the line went quiet for another thirty seconds. It sounded like I’d been disconnected. I stayed on the line. They came back, they said, “I’m still here on the line, m’am. My computer is very slow today. It should be just another moment.” And, again, “I appreciate your patience.”
Although I had called not even two minutes prior, they had checked on me three times, as if I was going to panic, as if I weren’t able to endure.
So I said, “Take your time.”