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Busier by the day


July 12, 2019

There never seems to be enough time to accomplish all the things we must do. Life gets busier and busier. But what does all that busy-ness add to our lives?

Mainstream culture tells us that being busy is a virtue, so we want to be busy even if we complain about it. It means we’re productive and have purpose. Ideas like “time is money” and “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” have helped to define our culture. Both ideas work in concert with the global capitalist economy, which depends on keeping us busy in order to increase productivity, expand markets, and encourage hyper-consumption. Busy-ness also helps to keep us from questioning the assumptions and values that drive busy-ness itself.

Busy-ness is part of a broader set of structures that limit our choices and our ability to feel satisfied. What we call the “hegemony of busy-ness” refers two interrelated processes. First, busyness is a powerful cultural pressure. Second, and more importantly, this busy-ness perpetuates the social system that makes the rich richer and creates more and more economically vulnerable people. We are impelled to do more and to want to do more, but busy-ness limits our ability to improve our overall happiness, promote greater equity, or save our endangered planet.

Our global economic and political order fuels a state of constant activity, and busy-ness harms both individual and community well-being. There’s so much information thrown at us, we just don’t know where to start. Time poverty limits our ability to talk with neighbors and nurture communities. If time is money for some, it is also what gives meaning to our lives. Busy-ness disconnects us from our social habitats by preoccupying us with endless tasks and often meaningless information.

The upshot is that busy-ness undermines our physical and mental health as well as our ability to think and learn. Modern society has transformed homo sapiens into what former technology professional and Consciously Digital founder Anastasia Dedyukhina calls homo distractus -people who are continuously inundated with information and perpetually distracted.

A growing body of research shows that our increasingly online, multi-tasking world undermines our ability to concentrate and think deeply. With our eyes focused on the tiny screens we carry around, we become habituated to “skim reading,” and our attention spans have become limited to 40-60 characters. Although this benefits the companies that vie for our mental space, it weakens our capacities for engaged listening and empathy.

Screen time is also linked to rising rates of anxiety and depression. All of this bodes ill for the functioning of healthy democracies, constraining our ability to address the deep social divides and the urgent ecological crises of our times. We lose our ability to really listen to each other and to concentrate long enough to understand and analyze complex issues, leaving us unprepared to deal with the urgent problems we face.

The speed of digital communication, coupled with corporate-driven information delivery systems, has undermined democratic norms and practices in profound ways. Despite the internet’s capacity to democratize access to information, people are becoming increasingly segregated online as well as offline, making us easy targets for fake news. We’re being sorted out according to our likes, preferences, and ideological leanings.

Digital platforms need to keep us clicking to new content, and they care little whether or not this promotes healthy social interaction. The result is that we’re less in touch with people of different political persuasions and with diverse interests and experiences. Yet democracy requires people to share a sense of common purpose and commitment to dialogue and compromise. These are essential to addressing social conflicts and ensuring equity and justice for everyone.

Excerpted from: ‘Why Busy-ness Is So Damaging’.


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