No there and then

I think the last time I ever went anywhere and voluntarily decided not to be 24/7 connected to the Internet was five years ago. It was a weekend trip, and I got my flight booked to attend the TEDxTalk in Ubud, Bali. I decided to splurge on staying at a villa overlooking the terraced paddy fields in a village 20 minutes away from the town centre, which required the driver or the ojek to drive me to and fro the town centre. The owner of the villa offered to waive the fee for the pickup ride to and fro the airport, so I never had to worry about looking for any transportations to take me from the Ngurah Rai airport to Ubud, which would take about an hour. It was a weekend trip, so I never had to be on standby to check and answer emails or work texts. In other words, all my needs were already taken care of. Also in other words, I had the due privilege to splurge on all these luxuries and could afford to be disconnected for a while, of which something I am really grateful for. Additionally — not sure if this related — it was five years ago, which meant Instagram Story wasn’t invented yet, so I didn’t have the pressure to upload pictures there and then as an ‘update’, for some reasons I am still unclear till today (the idea that I felt I had to update everyone on social media there and then). I still remember the weekend trip till today: I got to talk to people from many different backgrounds at the conference, at the restaurant a Sri Lankan couple invited me to join them at their table where they showed me pictures of their daughter who was about my age currently studying abroad, went on a road trip with a friend around Ubud, took hundreds of pictures (but didn’t upload right away!) and went home and wrote a blog post on things I have learned and done.

I was reminded of this trip (and was again reminded of how privileged I am and how I must use it to help alleviate someone else’s burden too) after reading today’s edition of Anne Helen Peterson’s newsletter on the privilege to go slow and our acquired impatience for everything optimised — must be 24/7 connected, same-day delivery, paying extra to be prioritised for our Uber/Lyft/Grab ride because we somehow needed to get to the office earlier to catch up on emails before work hours, checking emails itself on our commute to the office, etc.

… the inverse fetish for on-demand services is so clearly a symptom of how we’ve overpacked our lives. We need overnight shipping because we didn’t have time to shop for gifts until the day before. We need a Lyft at our door right now because we’re trying to squeeze in a few extra minutes of work before heading to the airport. We need the food done in 20 seconds because we’re trying to feed kids and ourselves and the dog while also sorting the recycling and changing the laundry and making a grocery order on FreshDirect which, ugh, why can they only deliver at 6:45 pm tonight, not 5 pm the way I’d like? Busy-ness fosters a perception that the only way you can possibly survive is through convenience — and you’ll pay a considerable amount the money you make through that busy-ness to obtain it.

This accompanying article listed down in Peterson’s list of recommended articles also resonates with this whole notion on always ‘optimising’, where everyone was always trying to make their morning routines Instagram-ready, always super ‘productive’ — all of those routines of waking up at 3.30, doing yoga, catching up on emails before the sun rises etc. But then also there’s this that points out how absurd this is:

But something sinister seems to be going on if you feel that you have to wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual to improve your well-being, so that you can also work 60 hours a week, cook dinner, run errands, and spend time with your family. In a culture obsessed with self-optimisation, “we are being sold on the need to upgrade all parts of ourselves, all at once, including parts that we did not previously know needed upgrading.”

There was also a chapter in Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, Always Be Optimizing, where she talks about the tendency of modern women to always ‘optimise’ themselves, by “sweating it out at Pure Barre on your lunch break, then refueling at Sweetgreen with a salad designed to be eaten in 10 minutes flat, wearing athleisure the whole time, all the better to discipline oneself to efficiently perform office work while also efficiently adhering to contemporary beauty standards.”

It’s crazy. How crazy will we get? How have we allowed ourselves to this point? Sure, there is a choice not to do these, but again it seems individual if we are the only ones disoptimising, and what about people who could not afford to do so? The first group of people that came into my mind are the Amazon warehouse workers, people working on low wage expected to toil themselves more than 12 hours a day, single mothers juggling multiple tasks at work and at home while trying to survive from paycheck to paycheck, and many others. It reminded me of my first exposure of Peterson’s newsletter where she asked the most crucial question — do you actually care about other people? — that we always expect things to always be handed to us there and then so we could run to do other things there and then? Because behind every line of job — it involves conscious actions of real human beings. And that implies that as we try to rush things there and then, we are complicit with the companies in contributing to the overoptimisation culture that will rush these workers there and then, depriving them of rest, adequate meal times, vacations, and many others. Maybe before we decide to click on the ‘same-day delivery’ button (or if you could afford it, forgo Amazon for real), maybe we’d learn that there is no need to have the thing we want right there and then anyway.

Some related, some not:

  • To refuse to participate often takes much more dedicated effort than continuing as usual; it’s a risky endeavour, to just not.
  • Tell your fears they are not allowed where you are headed.
  • No.

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