The Slow-Paced 21st Century

P1000329It’s 3 pm on a Wednesday and you’ve just got home. Your other half will be back soon too, with the children – you both work full-time – so you make a drink and a snack for all of you. You had a good lunch so you’re not hungry yet, but you’ll need plenty to energy to run around with the kids later on.

When the others get home, you use the afternoon to spend time with the children and your other half, get some exercise, maybe read for a bit, do a bit of studying, and then later on either you or your other half will make dinner. You’ll probably do some housework, too. Once the kids have gone to bed, you two will have time to yourselves – you might go to the gym, watch a film together, whatever. Your parents had to work hard to pay for this standard of living, and had the backaches and poor fitness levels to prove it, but you’re lucky: these days it doesn’t take as many hours’ work to pay for it all, so you have more time to eat properly, exercise and relax.

You’ll turn in at the end of the evening and get a good night’s sleep. Your alarm clock’s set for 8.30 am, ready to leave for work at 9.30, unless you decide to get up earlier and do something before work. Your job and colleagues may or may not be interesting, but it pays enough for your and your family’s needs and doesn’t impinge on your evenings or your two- or three-day weekends.

Sound familiar? No, I thought not. But believe it or not, the scenario above is how people maybe 30 years ago imagined 21st-century life. Instead, of course, we get up earlier than this, spend more time working, don’t have a proper lunch and don’t switch off completely even when we leave the office because our smartphones blur the boundaries between work and non-work. We’re constantly stressed because we’re at the beck and call of all things electronic, and we never quite have time to eat, sleep or exercise properly. We do have a higher standard of living – few of us have known anyone who died young of an infectious disease or in childbirth, and chores that used to take hours of elbow grease now involve a few minutes of light physical activity and the pressing of a few buttons – but instead of revelling in our good fortune we’re constantly dissatisfied, because even in our homes we’re continually bombarded with adverts telling us life would be better if only we had X, Y or Z.

This post isn’t meant to be doom and gloom. We are blessed to live in the cultures we live in, for both the reasons I’ve just described and a less tangible one: respect for the rights of everyone but rich, white, male heterosexuals – whose rights have always been respected – is at a historic high and still increasing. We should never lose sight of just how lucky that makes us. In “us” I include rich, white, male heterosexuals too, because they benefit from the open diversity around them and relationships of equals with the women in their lives.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could really enjoy all those things? If we could spend our money on what’s important to us instead of buying a new gadget because that’s the thing to do? If we could use our time to look after ourselves and learn about the things that interest us instead of to earn money for possessions we quickly lose interest in? If we could clear our heads enough to sort out our own priorities instead of drinking in advertising?

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

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