Sunday, October 19, 2008

I'll Take a Slow Life, Please...

Here's that post that was deleted. Maybe a lot of people do Bloglines or Google Reader or whatever those things are called, and, if so, maybe most of you who read here have read it anyway! I don't fiddle around with my blog settings or how I read blogs or that kind of thing, so I'm kind of clueless about this (and a lot of things!).

I wrote this post quite a while back, but left it sitting in my files. Like I said, there is a part two, but it's only partially written, so I will try to get that finished and up in the next day or two. Lately, I've had a lot of things distracting me and demanding my attention (big, upcoming changes in our lives and other good things), so I haven't posted much that hasn't been written off the top of my head-- mostly lighter, daily things that I like writing about anyway. I shall try to get this finished quickly, though! :-)

Have the loveliest of days!

"The modern world of streamlined transportation, instantaneous communication, and time-saving technologies was supposed to free us from the dictates of the clock and provide us with increased leisure. Instead there seems never to be enough time. Tangential or discretionary time, once a mainstay, an amenity of life, is now a luxury."

~Jeremy Rifkin in Time Wars

"Streamlined transportation, instantaneous communication, and time-saving technologies" have made individual tasks quicker and easier to accomplish, but they've also sped up life. We can move from place to place faster and easier than we could in the past, so we are able to fit more into our minutes, our hours, our days, and our lives. And we do.

We've used up our margins, and we don't even realize they've gone missing. And if we're late for dinner? No problem. Zap it in the microwave. Or, even easier, pick it up at a fast food drive-through.

We can zip off to the store "right now" when we run out of something (instead of making do). Or we can hop in the car whenever we want, to go anywhere we want, possibly as a subconscious effort to brush off our ennui. It's ironic that with so much going on, people seem more restless, empty, and bored than ever.

Technology, meant to simplify our lives and give us more time, has done the opposite. It's made things more complex, and we are more harried. (Generally speaking, of course.) What in the world is going on?

Laura Ingalls Wilder wondered about this, too, in April 1917. Here are her thoughts, excerpted from Little House in the Ozarks: The Rediscovered Writings (ed. by Stephen W. Hines):

"A few days ago, with several others, I attended the meeting of a woman's club in a neighboring town. We went in a motor car, taking less than an hour for the trip on which we used to spend three hours before the days of motor cars; but we did not arrive at the time appointed nor were we the latest comers by any means. Nearly everyone was late, and all seemed in a hurry. We hurried through the proceedings; we hurried in our friendly exchanges of conversation; we hurried away; we hurried all the way home where we arrived late as usual.

"What became of the time the motor car saved us? Why was everyone late and in a hurry? I used to drive leisurely over to this town with a team, spend a pleasant afternoon, and reach home not much later than I did this time, and all with a sense of there being time enough, instead of a feeling of rush and hurry. We have so many machines and so many helps, in one way or another, to save time; and yet I wonder what we do with the time we save. Nobody seems to have any!

"Neighbors and friends go less often to spend the day. Instead, they say, 'We have been planning for so long to come and see you, but we haven't had the time,' and the answer will be: 'Everyone makes the same complaint. People don't go visiting like they used to. There seems to be no time for anything!' I have heard this conversation, with only slight variations, so many times that I should feel perfectly safe to wager that I should hear it anytime the subject might be started. We must have all the time there is, the same as always. We should have more, considering the timesaving, modern conveniences. What becomes of the time we saved?"

Laura seemed confused and frustrated about the rush of life that accompanied the rapid growth of technology. What was so promising and meant to simplify life, to be so helpful and freeing, seemed, conversely, to be greatly complicating things. Laura was trying to sort this out. The inefficient hurry that had begun to plague the everyday person's life was a pretty new phenomenon in her day. The speed of life really hasn't always been the way it is now.

Richard Swenson, in Margin, has published graphs showing the historical growth of technology. For all of the centuries preceding the 20th century, the line of progress on the graph was on a very, very slow incline (almost horizontal), but with the boom of technology in the 20th century, the line on the graph suddenly shoots almost straight upward.

Life, quite suddenly, became complicated and fast. At first, people like Laura Ingalls Wilder wondered about the hurry. She sensed a loss of something good. But now we're used to it. We like the activity. We are even dependent on it.

"Great peace is found in little busy-ness."
~Geoffrey Chaucer

I think that all people, busy or not, need to decide whether an activity has any important or meaningful bearing on their (or their children's) real daily life, what God has called them to, and their relationships. Otherwise, it's just the excitement of "run, do, go, join, network, chatter, do lunch, participate, shop, experience..."

I certainly think that there are healthy, worthwhile activities to commit to, but how many? Are we always rushing, hurrying, behind, a bit stressed? Are things at home getting done well enough? Is our rush preventable by planning ahead better or limiting distractions (computer!), or are we truly overbooked? Is our movement from one thing to another calm? Peaceful? Or are we pushing, pressing, rushing? Are we tired, unmotivated, and behind? Do you too often simply pacify situations with your children (or make threats), or do you have time to consistently discipline well and deal lovingly with the heart? Do the children seem fairly consistently settled in their demeanor?

We can overload our days, and our children's days, at home, too. Like when we make homeschooling too intense, too much (there are relaxed ways to achieve a wonderful, worthy education). Or by allowing distractions to consistently mess up the routine or to keep Mom's mind off the home and the children.

Life used to move more slowly and deliberately than it does today, almost by default. For the greater part of the past, the technology just didn't exist to allow people to live the overbusy lives that have come to seem normal today. And many people have never stopped to question the possible effects of their very busy lifestyles. They don't ask whether or not their pace is a natural one, and, if it's not, what are the possible ramifications. They no longer sense that (at least some) slow-paced living has its benefits.

We all need some slow, unstructured, unscheduled time in our days, no matter how busy we choose to be. We need some completely unscheduled, unstructured time where true leisure exists-- when we have unpressured time and freedom to think, wonder, explore, read, look, listen, and converse without time pressure.

In this day and age, to growing and developing children, unstructured leisure and time to play, wander, and imagine is a veritable gift. Children thrive in an environment that is consistent, relaxed, slow-paced, and offers plenty of free time. It is a gift to us adults, too. We've just lost our sense for it. We accept the tiredness and strain of our lives as normal, as part of being a responsible parent and adult. In these modern times, when everything is so highly structured and organized, true free time has gone missing.

(The second half of this post is about what a slow-paced life looked like in our home-- our typical daily routine-- plus an encouragement that busyness and speed is not inevitable, that it's not" just the way it is." Most of us do have a choice as to how busy we will be. Some people may choose to stay as busy and active as ever, and I'm not about to tell anyone they shouldn't or to insinuate that they are "missing the good life", but, for those of us who feel a pull toward slowing down, we really do almost always have a choice.)