At an inhuman pace

Focusing on one activity feels like a 'waste of time'. Meanwhile, multitasking damages health and inhibits positive emotions. We don't feel the 'flavour' of life, we don't get satisfaction from what we are currently doing. How can we minimise these torments and anxieties?

What's wrong?

Why am I still in a hurry?

It seems to me that I am relentlessly picking up the pace and still breathlessly meeting deadlines. Someone will say: age. I would agree, if it weren't for the fact that everyone has it, regardless of generation. And psychologists are sounding the alarm: let's slow down!

So much for this being a cry in the wilderness.

Progress requires us to turn on a constant internal accelerator, while slow life means stagnation, consequently falling out of step. After all, it is the fastest people who succeed, not the languishers.

Only... at what price?

Mind in the cloud

We race not only against others, above all against ourselves.

They say: a mind that is not exercised becomes rotten, like muscles that are not used. Therefore, retirement does not slow down intellectual or physical activity. For if we slacken, we will grow old faster than the metric predicts.

A friend of mine believes that as long as there are breaths in your chest, you have to keep rushing forward, especially assimilating new technology.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE This year brings me just such. First, an old computer refused to cooperate with a black screen, thus forcing me to spend a fair amount of money to buy new apple-signed hardware (only Macs came into play, I don't recognise others).

This one is thin, sophisticatedly elegant (which is why I like Macs), however - it has no way of playing back old discs, let alone movies recorded on CD, of which we have a sizeable collection. This new one has memory in the cloud, and I'm not rocking that one yet.

Nevertheless, I like him - the computer - (have you noticed that we have an emotional relationship with electronic devices? Do we think they will repay the same? Since they are intelligent, maybe they learn emotional intelligence too?).
Focusing on one activity feels like a 'waste of time'. What, just talking on the phone, just studying, just listening to music, just reading, just eating? What a wasteful use of time! Pictured are staff at the Edinburgh City Observatory walking around a clock with two dials. Photo: PAP/PA
Then the mobile phone needed replacing. Admittedly, the old one was still ticking over, but I had performed a manoeuvre to pre-empt the painful blow of losing all contacts.

I have acquired a state-of-the-art model. It's twice as heavy (in weight) and many times more capable, but to like it I need to embrace the possibilities and train my reflexes.

Sometimes I feel that the operation of this new cell misses the logic. At least mine. I would have programmed the touch follow-up differently. Besides - how long do I have to keep my finger on the screen for this device to yield to me?

Intuition is intuition, but you also have to develop certain habits to touch properly. It's associated with sex - but now everything is supposed to be sexy. For the time being, I'm not getting high with a smartphone.

For now, my focus in our interactions is as if I were taking a trigonometry exam (which, by the way, has always bowled me over as it required spatial imagination).

The enslavement of technology

Those who were born with a mobile phone in their hand find it easier to master the ever-new electronic toys. But the older generation needs to get used to it. Analogue tools go to the basement or to the scrap heap, while newly acquired ones are intimidated by their technological brilliance. In addition, there are no manuals, everything is left to the user's imagination.

So we waste a lot of time 'figuring out' gadgets whose principles of operation we cannot understand.

Let me remind you: it takes time to develop conditioned reflexes, i.e. automatic reactions to repeated stimuli. For example, Ivan Pavlov spent a long time getting his dog to salivate at the mere sight of a change of light, because it had learned to expect food along with the change.

We used to do a lot of daily activities 'blindly', without thinking, without engaging attention. Now, we have to focus and re-member. As it turns out - for a short time, ever shorter, because in a year, in a few months, the next, new generation of equipment will appear.

If the changes occur too quickly for us to develop reflexes that do not require concentration, which applies to practically the whole environment, we are constantly tense, in fear of an irreversible slip-up.

It's exhausting!

Those who professionally rummage through electronic tools can do so from under their fingertips. And they are probably fascinated by the introduction of successive "improvements", which evoke the production of successive equipment and encourage us, incapacitated by advertising and other compulsions, to make successive purchases. Meanwhile, we (I write on behalf of other old-school humanists) developed other skills. We put a premium on pondering, comparing, valuing.

You can now forget about these efficiencies.

We have been taken under the yoke of technology. And we can feel the breath of artificial intelligence on our necks, which will write, compose, paint, design instead of us.

If to this constant learning to use everyday appliances we add ordinary household chores, satisfying family, social, intellectual and entertainment needs - it becomes clear why we keep running.

And then crack!

We get off at the END station. Or are we being dropped off there.

Signal: At ease!

This is already known by psychologists and a bit like what highly developed societies try to observe. At the same time, no one says it out loud, because the milk has been spilled and there is no return to the former peaceful pace.

Why do we need mosquitoes, fleas and ticks

Let the insects eat us after we die, the ethologist appeals.

see more
However, our biology cannot keep up with the changes that are continually reorganising our surrounding world. Organisms give us warning signals through various methods of withdrawal from the daily marathon. He wants to set himself at "rest!".

How does he do it?

Sometimes it's a 'simple' illness that drags on mercilessly and forces one to pause for a long time. Other times it's 'professional burnout' syndrome (I think everyone knows what we're talking about). Then again, there is apathy, anhedonia, depression....

All this means that the body refuses to be in a constant state of readiness.

As a consequence, in the last two decades, the permanent increase in stress has resulted in an increase in chronic diseases in potentially healthy and young people. The gruelling pace of life and the never-before-seen plethora of stimuli are tiring far more than straining to complete a specific task with a clearly defined end.

Now you have to be on alert all the time.

Barely focusing on one activity feels like a 'waste of time'. What, just reading the mail, just talking on the phone, just studying, just listening to music, just watching the news online, just eating lunch? What a wasteful use of time!

So we try to do at least two activities at the same time, or maybe three or four? Geniuses known for their divisibility of attention are readily cited as examples (such a Napoleon is an all-time champion in the discipline of associating facts, remembering them and solving several problems simultaneously).

Nowadays, various workouts are proposed to match Napoleon.

For example: personalised divisibility restoration programmes based on neuroplasticity, developed (supposedly) by scientists. Go ahead, you can take a look at such a cognitive stimulation programme online and, using the instructions on your mobile phone or tablet - practice a quarter of an hour a few times a week. The results are guaranteed!

Meanwhile... other scientists are sounding the alarm: multitasking damages health and inhibits, even nullifies positive emotions. We do not feel the 'flavour' of life, we do not derive satisfaction from what we are currently engaged in.

Even leisure, holidays or social gatherings do not relax, as thoughts of what else we should be doing tickle at the back of our minds.

While it is possible to reconcile two activities involving other areas of the brain - for example dusting and listening to music - the simultaneous monitoring of information on a computer screen, answering emails, making a phone call plus listening to music is distracting and does not allow one to remember the content of the correspondence or conversation. In general, constantly forcing the brain (specifically the cerebral cortex) to expend more energy leads to frustration.
We are not only racing against others, above all against ourselves. The protagonists of the film "On the Booze" - middle school teachers - strive to appear younger and cooler in the eyes of those around them, but above all in their own eyes. Alcohol and fun are supposed to do it for them. Photo: excerpt from the poster
Do you know what we try to reduce it with? For example, fast and unemotional sex (funny how sexaholism has its origins in... workaholism). A row with a neighbour or a child for completely trivial reasons. Eating. That is, snacking. Or drinking, including alcohol. Not to get drunk, but to drink sparingly so as to feel slightly stimulated. Anyone who has seen Thomas Vinterberg's "On the Booze" (2020, Oscar-winning film) will know what this is all about.

And they keep accelerating, good God....

Once upon a time - in the 1990s - psychologist Robert Levine studied the differences that occur in the pace of life of different nations. He took as the basis for these measurements the speed at which the inhabitants of different cities move. It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that the fastest were those from the metropolises with the highest degree of industrialisation and that Singapore ranked first. But, surprisingly, Copenhagen and Madrid came next. Then there was China's Guangzhou, followed by Dublin, Brazil's Curitiba, Berlin, New York, Utrecht, Vienna and finally, in 11th place from the top, was Warsaw. Just ahead of London.

It is a known fact - the faster we run, the more tired we become. Thirty years ago, only 49% of Europeans complained of working too exhaustingly; in the following decade, this percentage jumped to 60%.

With us, technology is accelerating, which translates into a shorter and shorter 'life cycle' of any product, including the existence of brands. No one fixes anything any more, it doesn't pay off. You have to buy new items, from new manufacturers. We are not living longer at all either, and we are certainly enjoying our earthly existence less.

How to minimise these torments and anxieties?

For example, throwing in a mode called slow life. Its basis is mindfulness training, i.e. the ability to focus attention on one activity or stimulus.

Wait, wait, don't we all know that? Followers of the Zen philosophy have long practised focusing on the present moment and taking pleasure in current events. And busy (much less than today) Westerners were already travelling to the East in the 1960s/70s to take meditation lessons at the source.

Now these methods are returning, albeit under new banners. The general idea is to slow down. But, battered by the constant acceleration, people are looking for ways to loosen up, while at the same time not changing their behaviour. This is why psychotherapists, coaches, personal development trainers and other "doctors of the soul" can no longer keep up with patients who are prepared to pay dearly to regain their inner peace.

It's just that... often a session with these professionals becomes one more task that gets squeezed into a bursting schedule. And nothing to relax about.

I am writing this text with the music off - thoughts are best gathered in silence.

I'm writing before the holidays - so that I can rest in peace on them, not racked by remorse that I've messed up in something. It will work.

– Monika Małkowska
– Tranlated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Warsaw was ranked 11th (ahead of London!) among the world's cities measured in the 1990s in terms of the speed at which their inhabitants move. Photo shows the centre of the Polish capital, around the metro and Marszałkowska Street, in August 20111. Photo: PAP/Paweł Supernak
See more
Columns Previous issue
The short life of a washing machine
No one has the courage to challenge the corporations responsible for littering the Earth.
Columns wydanie 17.11.2023 – 24.11.2023
This is not a scene from „Fauda”, this is real life
When Hamas attacked Israel, friends from the film plan moved on to the tasks of the war.
Columns wydanie 3.11.2023 – 10.11.2023
Church to bear it? Francis’ Synod on Synodality halfway through
Who should be preferred: the poor, migrants, women, or perhaps sexual minorities?
Columns wydanie 27.10.2023 – 3.11.2023
Hassliebe in the Middle East
The „Canaanite” movement opted for the integration of the Hebrew population of Palestine with… the Arabs.
Columns wydanie 13.10.2023 – 20.10.2023
Yeltsin, Putin's worthy predecessor
It was the previous president of Russia who executed democracy.