The Tyranny of Drive0
By Frank J. Rich
Most would offer that little of value derives from doing nothing. In fact, we have learned by experience—our own and others—that hard work produces results. Few new ventures produce the expected market entrenchment before the requisite two years. Statistics have born this out, some studies concluding that individual proficiency requires an astonishing 10 years to achieve. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, is rife with examples.
It would seem that our penchant for hard work has delivered the productivity Americans trade on; the drive to innovate and make something from very little. Drive, that natural tendency in the human condition and its toiling twin, hard work, combine to position America as the land of opportunity by its very nature. And, by this experience we have grown accustomed to the niggling, fidgeting, tapping impudence that makes present moments arduous and most people impatient with the next … and others. What price do we pay for such vainglorious results?
We are in the Information Age, as many call it. We have opted in for so much of it that it’s chocking us, reducing us to info junkies while stressing the natural acuities for processing, filtering, and gaining from the very same information. Life and work have reached such light speed that to keep up requires the cloning of oneself so popularized by Dolly and her brethren. But short of this, what’s a body to do?
Americans are driven; it’s in our blood. The delayed gratification of enjoying our labors’ fruit, however, has become more carrot than contentment. In fact, it is now so difficult to keep up with the world’s pace that we become distracted, disoriented, and dysfunctional. Not even our elected officials can keep up with the volumes written in support of critical legislation; witness how few read the stimulus plan before voting on it. It is much the same for the proposed national health plan.
The signs are all around us. Max Kalehoff, editor of Online Spin, bemoans yet another of the automated, high-speed violators in our midst—remote control devices. There seems to be one for every unique gadget in the room, and most have unique features not found in the others. This makes it necessary to keep them around.
We relate to Max’s experience; there are no doubt numerous, if not a dozen, remotes strewn around the TV room of our homes. This, because it is never just one remote that is needed, as Max explains. “A music-listening session typically requires the remotes for the Internet radio receiver and the multimedia receiver. Conversely, a movie-watching session typically requires remotes for the multimedia receiver, the plasma screen and a video source device, which might include the Roku, DVD player, or PC. Few remotes are intuitive, so every usage and combination is akin to solving a new puzzle.”
Another encroachment is the incessant emailing that has become commonplace in our information overloaded world. We have become so obsessed with the inveigling communications at our fingertips that little else captures our attention with such compelling need. We “need” to communicate, and near all the time, or so it would seem. We text, email, search, blog, network, and now tweet, largely to the exclusion of most else. We write more than ever, but not letters or reports that form logically in the mind and on paper. Yet our obsession with new media connections is so compelling that we are driven eagerly to the lure of our various communications devices. But is it good?
John Freeman, editor and author of the published book, The Tyranny of E-Mail, concludes that email, in all its forms, has taken control of our lives, encouraging so much unnecessary palaver that it threatens to make more idiot of us than savant. He writes that constantly being ON causes emotional and physical burnout, workplace meltdowns, and unhappiness.” How many of our most joyful memories, he adds, have been created in front of a screen? How does something so “vital” to our existence, its quickening anxieties the irreverent fidgeting and tapping it elicits, risk disequilibrium?
Mr. Freeman contends that our drive to communicate changes the experience with words, their meaning, and the value of speed in our lives and business practice. We squeeze symbols from real words and the feelings that endow them, clipping along uneasily in an effort to keep up with all that is going on as though the constant ruffling of this streaming invasion were necessary and good. Is it?
We go to war hastily, he adds, go to meetings unprepared, and build relationships on the slimmest of foundations, spending what little attention we have till little is left when we really need it. How many of us find it impossible not to take a peek at a vibrating cell phone, even in the middle of a meeting or engaging conversation? A quick indulgence, a text message in reply, and hardly a blush over the interruption is a common scenario. When committed to little more than our urge to merge over the airwaves, we forego the friendly gatherings at the local watering hole, the convalescing serenity of the library, and the physical and emotional investment in community events, advancing the asceticism of a constant din and “making it more difficult to tell the signal from the noise, ultimately trading the complicated reality of friendship for its vacuum-packed idea.”
We are driven by many things; a slower existence less prominent among them. Perhaps, there is something to the phrase: “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Live slow, and prosper!