Doing nothing is finally getting some respect.
That’s because scientists and humanists examining our frenzied, technology obsessed society are figuring out that “we the people” are out of balance. The emphasis is on “people” in the sense of the individual human being.
Alan Lightman, a physicist and author of In Praise of Wasting Time, warns us that our society is draining us of an essential element of human development - “know thyself.”
“By not giving ourselves the minutes, or hours, free of devices and distractions, we risk losing our ability to know who we are and what’s important to us,” said Lightman, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a TED Talk.
“Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves,” said Lightman. “We are creating a global machine in which each of us is a mindless and reflexive cog, relentlessly driven by the speed, noise and artificial urgency of the wired world.”
As a developed nation, “we the people” have laws and immense freedom, but somehow we seem to have lost the ability “to insure domestic tranquility” in our homes and personal lives. This is happening not just in the U.S., but in every country where technology has created the 24/7 obsession to stay connected.
Our homes are stopovers in the rush to get to work, do errands and run kids to a tight schedule of activities. Teenagers and even young children are struggling with depression and anxiety, while spending endless hours with social media “friends” who are more digital ghosts than real relationships.
“The situation is dire,” warns Lightman. “The loss of slowness, of time for reflection and contemplation, of privacy and solitude, of silence, of the ability to sit quietly in a chair for 15 minutes without external stimulation — all have happened quickly and almost invisibly. A hundred and fifty years ago, the telephone didn’t exist. Fifty years ago, the Internet didn’t exist. Twenty-five years ago, Google didn’t exist.”
Dutch writer Olga Mecking points out that there’s a word in the Netherlands for doing nothing - ”niksen.” “The idea of ‘niksen’ is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless,” Mecking wrote in a New York Times article, “The Case for Doing Nothing.”
“The less-enlightened might call such activities lazy or wasteful,” said Mecking. She calls that perspective “nonsense.”
Research is showing that idleness makes way for clarity that results in better problem solving, productivity and creativity. That sense of clarity is good for mental health.
Lightman, Alan, “Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day,” TED Talk, May 15, 2018
Mecking, Olga, “The Case for Doing Nothing,” New York Times, April 29, 2019