"Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do." - Thomas Pynchon
I recently emailed a friend, asking if she wanted to do something next week. She answered that she didn't have a lot of time. "But if something's going on, let me know," she said. Maybe she could ditch work for a bit.
This is not an uncommon response. I always have the urge to explain that my question isn't a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; it is the invitation. But people's work schedules are like some loud churning machine through which they're shouting at me and I tend to give up trying to shout back.
This isn't everybody. But it is the majority busyness has become the default response when you ask most people how they're doing. "Busy!" they say one way or another. "Up to my eyeballs," "swamped." People tend to feel anxious and guilty when they're not working or doing something to promote their work. Down time with friends, family, or by themselves is often approached like community service they'll do it if it looks good on their resume.
Whether realized or not, overworking is a boast disguised as a complaint at a time when unemployment rates are at 9.6 percent - according to the May U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, busyness is a nice problem to have. But I think also, people dread what they might face in busyness' absence. As a kind of existential reassurance, they subconsciously think: "my life can't be insignificant if I'm in demand every hour of every day."
Therefore people are swamped up to their eyeballs by their own choosing, whether fueled by ambition or anxiety. Bearing in mind the explosion of communications technology, this work-obsessed mentality has become a way of 21st century life.
Of course having a job and making money is good. But our increasing addiction to both is negatively affecting our entire culture psychologically and physically. Overworking encourages: an increase in habits and additions, such as alcohol, coffee, and smoking; an increase in the consumption of fast food; little time to exercise and subsequent weight gain; and increase in the use of diet pills and other fad diets that are detrimental to one's health; loss of sleep ...
As history often shows, some of the best ideas have developed during moments of rest when one has stepped back from work, taken a breather, and seen life as a whole: Archimedes' "Eureka!" in the bath, Newton's apple, Alexander Fleming's famous vacation that led to penicillin.
Earlier this month the Financial Times posted a piece about the end of the age of consumption: "(Government) should institute an unconditional basic income for all citizens. This would aim to improve the choice between work and leisure. Critics say this would be a disincentive to work. That is precisely its merit in a society which should be working less and enjoying life more."
While this may be a bit of a radical direction, I think the intention is good.
Being busy is not a condition of life; it's something people choose. We all need to stop feeling so complacent over our packed schedules and enjoy a little indolence.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to
or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com