Too Much, Too Fast: Why We Need to Pause in Life

One day, I realized I’d never seen a semicolon as part of a tweet, those compact teasers of communication brought to us by Twitter. It made me think differently about the relationship between time and communication, the way time seems to somehow simultaneously shrink and accelerate.

Maybe it all started with instant coffee, that powdery brown stuff that had a vague aroma of the real stuff, but no body or flavor. Or maybe it was Minute Rice, which had the same capacity to remind us of what the real stuff was, promising hints through shape alone, while delivering little nutrition. Maybe the time warp is connected to the process of writing: from script to manual typewriter, to electric typewriter to computer, each iteration speedier than the last. But whether coffee or composition, quality product takes time. Somehow, as a society, we’ve accepted the maxim that “faster is better,” and its corollary: “shorter is faster.”

The length of news articles is shorter, with headlines that media outlets often now substitute for in-depth analysis. Online news services often now feature paywalls, encouraging users to be satisfied with tag lines or be punished, financially, for wanting more detail. And so we rush, being exposed to more and more bits of information, faster and faster, with less and less depth, detail or analysis. We fly past reports of news events, tucking them away “for later,” which rarely comes. Rapid news cycles, ten-second ads and scrolling stock prices depict a world changing too fast. We get impatient with customer service agents who can’t respond with the instantaneous responses we’ve come to expect with computer searches or instant pudding.

Where does this lead us? When we fly past the content of life, we miss the “meat” (and I’m a vegetarian!). We miss nuance and subtlety. Text messages – lacking descriptive adjectives, adverbs and even vowels – fool us into thinking that something has been communicated, while we’ve just gotten a tidbit, a clue. Before long, we become intolerant, reactive, judgmental.

Too much, too fast, too “thin.” We know how to speed up, but not how to slow up… or to slow down. Here are a few practical suggestions to put a needed pause in your life:

  • When stopped at a red light, take your hands off the steering wheel and place them gently in your lap. When the light changes, put your hands back on the steering wheel and resume driving.
  • Before eating, pick up your fork, and then put it down again. Look at the food you’re about to eat, noting color, texture, shape, aroma. Then pick up your fork and begin eating.
  • When making a phone call, take a moment to visualize the person you are about to call. Think about where they might be at this moment, what they might be thinking, who they might be with. When you call them, you’re joining their life. Pause before you speak, and then continue.

Back to that semicolon in the tweet: The purpose of a semicolon is to pause between two clauses. When we pause, even for a few moments, between the clauses of our lives, we become more aware of time – which is, in fact, all we really have.

Take a semicolon break!


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