As the weekend approached I wanted to make the best of it. I wanted to get work out of my system and relax. And, my idea of relaxing was reading. When I actually started reading on Saturday, I had a doubt — is it the best book I could read right now? why not read a new one? Learn something new? Improve myself? Why ‘waste’ time re-reading the same book again? So, even though my heart protested I reluctantly gave up and picked a new book. Then after sometime I again had a doubt – is this the best way to spend my time? After all life is short and weekend further short, shouldn’t I be spending time on an activity with the best ROI? That would make my weekend a blast? I started to think – Movie? Get-together? Shopping? Sleeping? Music? Long drive? I wanted to do all them, if not, at-least a part of all. The book in my hand by now had lost its appeal. But, I didn’t’ have enough time and was disappointed. I spent the rest of the day wallowing. What was wrong in my expectation of getting the best out of every minute? Nothing, but, paradoxically my this thought had left me dejected and sad.
Why couldn’t I just do what I intended to? Why was I in a hurry to make the best of the time I had? From when did we start thinking about ROI so stringently? When I was a kid running on the road playing marbles did I? When I was in school reading a comic gladly skipping the encyclopaedia, did I? No, then why now? From the money I spend to the time I spend I’m now concerned with what can bring the ‘best bang for my buck’. Is it just me growing up, or, is the world changing?
As a kid, when I was still discovering myself, I used to goto a nursery near my home and sit under a tree just staring out into the horizon for hours. My friends used to think I was nuts (probably I was and still ’am) but that silence, calm and serene atmosphere relaxed me. On some occasions I used to carry a book with me and would occasionally stop to ponder on what I read or just marvel at what I read, savouring it. I was in no hurry to move on to my next book as if I was in an invisible race (my Facebook friends would remember me sharing a list of books I had read that month). If I liked the book, I would read the book again and again. Now I don’t do that anymore ’cause my reading list is bigger than my life span and I now think re-reading is a waste of time, it’s just seems illogical.
A question I’m often asked is why I did a MA in English? Why? Why on earth did I want to read poetry? Why did I want to read old books and dissect them? What would I gain? Nothing. I didn’t do MA to gain something. I just did because I loved the language. That was all. Upon listening this, people would give me a look ‘you wasted two years? How does arts add value? In no way. It doesn’t help you innovate anything, neither does it help you grow a business. Then, why?’
When I joined MBA, on our first day a professor asked us why we took this course, I answered naively, ‘for knowledge’. He laughed at me, ‘my friend you should take this course to earn, to find a job; not to gain knowledge. What is knowledge worth if it does not get you a job?’. Half of the class nodded in agreement. Like John Keating, I foolishly believed the purpose of education was to teach students to think for themselves.
The other day I wanted to buy a gift for my son for his second birthday. In the toy shop I was searching, I did not like anything. All I saw were toys not worth the money I was spending. After sometime when I realised I had gone through the whole shop, not finalising on anything, I caught myself. What I should’ve been thinking was, what would bring a smile on my kid’s face and not if I was getting the best deal. Probably everyone would’ve come to the same conclusion, afterall looking for value for your money is not wrong, but I felt sad that it was not my first thought.
Today at work we are rated on our performance, for our doing, for our productivity – how many reports can we generate, how many sales can we make, how many devices can we produce, how many lines of code we can write, the more we produce, the more effective we are, the more valued we are. The same started extending to our personal lives too. What should I ‘do’ to be valued as a person? How should I effectively spend my time? Doing what can I get the most out of life? Nothing wrong in the thought, societies and economies run on our capacities to produce. But what are we becoming in this race to do more, to be more? Mechanized humans? Whose whole purpose is to jam as much as possible into the time we have? To occupy ourselves so much that we don’t have any time to think or calmly be? For dolce far niente?
Given this outlook I wonder what Thoreau or Keats would be called according to today’s standards. Losers? We are getting close to a society dreamed by Plato who said all poets (in extension liberal arts) must be banned from society and of Ayn Rand who attributed value to self only on what they contributed to society. If we get there what would be the difference between humans and robots?
What separates humans from other animals is the ability to think. And sometimes thoughts take time, Einstein when stymied with a problem would play Mozart to free his mind, Archimedes found his great principle in the shower, Steve Jobs would take long walks to clear his mind and focus. Our lives are not meant to be means to some end, or to be in an invisible race where we are rated by how much we ‘do’ in life. Our life should be balanced with action and inaction, with work and boredom. It is in the time we use to connect with nature, to be calm, to do nothing, that we find ourselves, think of who we are, and figure out our place in this world, without that we are no different from the robots that we fear will take over the world or the animal we left behind.