Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Commas, Multitasking and the Sabbath

Robert Samuelson has a gem of a column. He oddly starts talking about the virtues of the comma, but then riffs to a larger theme about the increased speed by which we now live our lives. I'll let you read the ode to the comma on your own. Here is what Samuelson has to say about the speed of everyday life:

It is true that Americans have always been in a hurry. In "Democracy in America" (1840), Alexis de Tocqueville has a famous passage noting the "feverish ardor" with which Americans pursue material gains and private pleasures. What's distinctive about our era, I think, is that new technologies and astonishing prosperity give us the chance to slacken the pace. Perish the thought. In some ways, it seems, we Americans have actually become more frantic.

Evidence to support this hunch hasn't been hard to find. Exhibit A is a story a few months ago in The Post headlined " Teens Can Multitask, But What Are Costs?" We meet Megan, a 17-year-old high school honors senior. After school, she begins studying by turning on MTV and booting up her computer. The story continues:
In reality, multitasking isn't confined to the young. It's hard to go anywhere these days -- including restaurants and business meetings -- without seeing people punching furiously on their BlackBerrys, cellphones or other handheld devices. More mush, maybe. At the least, serious questions of etiquette have arisen. In one survey, almost a third of the executives polled said it is never appropriate to check e-mail during meetings.

Over the next half hour, Megan will send about a dozen instant messages discussing the potential for a midweek snow day. She'll take at least one cellphone call, fire off a couple of text messages, scan Weather.com, volunteer to help with a campus cleanup [at the local high school], post some comments on a friend's Facebook page and check out the new pom squad pictures another friend has posted on hers.

. . .

In reality, multitasking isn't confined to the young. It's hard to go anywhere these days -- including restaurants and business meetings -- without seeing people punching furiously on their BlackBerrys, cellphones or other handheld devices. More mush, maybe. At the least, serious questions of etiquette have arisen. In one survey, almost a third of the executives polled said it is never appropriate to check e-mail during meetings.

Next, there's work. Unlike most rich nations, the United States hasn't reduced the average workweek during the past quarter-century. In 2006, annual hours for U.S. workers averaged 1,804, barely different from 1,834 in 1979, reports the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. By contrast, the Japanese cut annual hours by 16 percent, to 1,784; the Germans 20 percent, to 1,421; and the French 16 percent, to 1,564. A study by economists Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas and Joel Slemrod of the University of Michigan argues that long working hours, especially among the well paid, may be an addiction, akin to alcoholism and smoking. (The paper is titled " The Economics of Workaholism: We Should Not Have Worked on This Paper.")



Read it all (including the stuff about commas) here.

Okay, this hits rather close to home (he says as he checks his blackberry for new messages). I am often the king of multitaskers (you know, the type that check email, do blog posts, and check the mail while listening in to a long boring firm meeting by conference call). Let's admit--life is becoming too crowded and busy.

I for one am trying to build "down time" into my life. It seems to me that we need to recognize the wisdom of the Sabbath. Our mental health certainly needs a day of rest--I know mine does. But perhaps more importantly, I think that our spiritual life does as well, One reason I decided to blog on faith is because I realized that the "other" aspects of my life--my career, politics, family and my interests--were leaving little room for thought on faith. This blog is one way I try to discipline myself to think and examine my faith at least a few times a day.

It seems to me that this is also one of the points about the Sabbath--it is a day not merely to rest, but to clear our minds and bodies of the "other things" so we can spend at least part of the day thinking about God and our faith journey. I'll have to remember this as we decide how to spend Sunday afternoon.

1 comment:

Philip said...

I totally agree with you on what the purpose of the Sabbath is, that it is a day to do something different than we do the rest of the week. This is one of the thins I really appreciate about the Seventh Day Adventist perspective on things (I'm a memeber).

Philip Roberts