As I am about to enter my last week of holidays, before I head back to work for the first time this year, I just couldn’t help thinking about a recent piece I read over at the NYTimes by the always witty and rather insightful Pico Iyer under the rather suggestive title of “The Joy of Quiet“, where he muses extensively about that almost forgotten, and sometimes forbidden (in today’s times, specially!), pleasures of treasuring the time to think, reflect, unwind, disconnect, see the world slowing down, charge your batteries, re-energise yourself with what really matters and perhaps come back for more. It’s a beautifully written article where he’s on a mission to help us all re-think the purpose of our online (inter)connectedness and to challenge, in a rather healthy, and very much needed, way, whether we do really need to be connected all the time. Or not. He calls it the “The Joy of Quiet” and I call it “The Joy of Choice“.
Indeed, for a good number of years there have been plenty of us, knowledge Web workers, who have been craving for having such an exciting, exuberant and abundant environment like the Social Web, as we know it nowadays. You know how it goes. We, news-junkies, can’t get enough about being constantly on the know of what’s happening around us and the rest of the world. We, news-junkies, can’t get enough of being exposed to a rampant learning curve that never ceases to stop more and more by the day, and get rather upset when technology falls short and continues to fail on delivering what we know we can get through it time and time again. We, in short, cannot longer live in isolation, it looks like, nor is a state that most of us could probably aspire to in the long run. But is it really so? And, most importantly, can we do anything about it at all? What do you think?
Pico puts it rather nicely, and very provocatively as well at the same time, in this short paragraph, when he states that we may not be able to do it because we haven’t been educated on how to make it through in the first place:
“The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual“
I can imagine that it may well be so for a good number of folks out there, but then again I can also see how there may well be plenty of other people who, over the course of time, have learned to tame, and educate themselves, not only on how they live their connectedness, but also how they may live along without it altogether and do just fine. That’s when something that we haven’t had for years on the Web to the extent we have got today, but that nowadays is just too critical to ignore, kicks in nicely to our rescue: Choice. Yes, indeed, now we do have a choice and that just basically means that we need to decide how we best plan for that joy of quiet without sounding like an hermit or some other kind of weirdo who doesn’t want to reach out and feel connected while everyone else is.
That’s why during the course of my holidays, and as I continue to reflect on the last few months, specially, after that frenetic and rather hectic year end with work related activities and whatever else, I self-discovered, through that thinking and reflection time, how something so wise as your own physical body learns to protect itself from everything that may try, or attempt to, harm its wellbeing. Even if that involves the brain itself. Now I know why for some periods of last year my brain was rather keen on being out there on the Social Web, reaching out, communicating, collaborating, sharing and learning from others, and yet, my body decided to switch priorities and dedicate itself to what it knows best: taking care of itself.
Yes, I guess that’s when your body starts sending some of those subtle and gentle signs telling you that you are about to max out and enter a very dangerous road of perhaps not an easy return. That’s probably why, just recently, you heard from plenty of your friends, colleagues, and other networks how they have started to take up sports once again, or to lose those extra few pounds, or to spend numerous, endless hours reading a good book while listening to their favourite music as one of their preferred evening activities, or perhaps to start some yoga and live healthier lives or maybe move out of the city into a rural, quieter place where things seem to have slowed down for a while and where conversations happen more face to face than virtually.
I bet within your own networks you may have bumped into such accidental discoveries and keep wondering why people keep doing it. Well, wonder no more. Their physical bodies have finally taken over and decided to take a stand as to helping the mind figure out how long and for what purpose should they remain interconnected online and when to find that appropriate time to disconnect for a while, think and reflect on things. On the things that matter. On those little things we all know are out there, but that we keep ignoring them for far too long and when we realise about it, it’s already too late.
Now, when looking back into retrospective from last year’s events and activities, I realise that was probably the reason why, back in July, I decided to become healthier again; that’s probably, while I am buzzing around during the course of the work week with plenty of business travelling, my weekends are sacred longing for extensive periods of disconnect where I basically just disappear. That’s maybe as well why I have now successfully built up the daily habit of doing my workout, where I just take with me my favourite music, hit the track for an hour and think about nothing else than just that beautiful Joy of Quiet. That’s probably why I now know how both my brain and my body are starting to be in sync when making the best choices as to when to go and slow down on the communication, collaboration and broadcasting fronts (And instead become more of a thinking force) and when to come back for more within one’s own social networks after those disconnecting periods.
That’s when one comes to realise it’s all about having a choice, but not just having it for the sake of it, because I know that in most cases we would be ignoring it and eventually keep doing what we are busy with on the Social Web front, but also acting upon it, which I guess is the point Pico makes quite nicely throughout the entire article and which I have learned to treasure myself during the second half of last year through starting to listen to those body signals that one knows have a second, or even third meaning, behind them.
Listening to them, knowing when and how to react and, most importantly, learning how to set the right expectations not only for you, but also for those around you, becomes a critical success factor of how we can learn to come to terms with the fact that yes, as wonderful and as brilliant and as energising as the Social Web is, we cannot ignore the choice of looking, and finding!, proper times to disconnect, to unwind, to ponder about things, to question, through critical thinking, what we are doing, where we are heading and what we would want to leave behind. Our legacies. Our purpose. That’s what we are here for. Being In Action. In constant action. Whether it’s out there on the Social Web, creating and consuming top quality content with our favourite social networks, or whether it’s happening in the offline world. Being In Action means what my good friend, and fellow IBMer, Laurie Friedman tweeted just a couple of days back as a beautiful quote from IBM’s recently appointed new CEO, Ginni Rometty:
Advice from IBM’s new CEO, Ginni Rometty, on her first day on the job? “Don’t ever stop reinventing yourself” #leadership
— lauriefriedman (@lauriefriedman) January 4, 2012
Call it Living Life as a Perpetual Beta, if you wish to as well, but I think Pico’s conclusion, although referring to our children, could surely blend in rather nicely with what would be, perhaps, our main challenge for 2012 and beyond:
“The child of tomorrow, I realized, may actually be ahead of us, in terms of sensing not what’s new, but what’s essential“
Indeed, figuring out what’s essential is about having a choice, i.e. when to stay connected, socially networked online, but also when to disconnect, when to look for those quiet times, helping those around you understand that as much as you appreciate the social interactions, there is still a time when you need it to reflect and think further what’s happening around you, so that they, too, can get exposed to the better you. So next time you see some of your networks have gone silent for a period of time, not to worry, they are not gone entirely, they haven’t abandoned you either, they are just taking their very much needed time off to reflect and ponder about things, they are taking their time off to figure out what really matters to them, before they come back in full force, once again. So we better start treasuring those silent periods, because something tells me we are going to have plenty of those coming along in the next few weeks / months and that’s a good thing!
The Social Web needs time as well to slow down a bit sometimes, reflect about both its impact and true legacy and keep moving further along once again… So just hang in there, the choice is ours, finally, after a long last. The important thing to remember though is to act upon it. After all “We create our own distractions and just need to learn to manage them“. And that will always remain our choice. Not theirs. So we better make good use of it and they better get used to it, too. They will need it …