There is a wonderful sketch in “Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl” where the “four Yorkshiremen” are trying to best each other regarding who survived the most indigent childhood. Douglas Coupland referred to a similar phenomenon that occurs at AA meetings as “one-downsmanship.”
There is a new game in town regarding busyness. If you observe conversations closely, does it not seem as if there is some sort of tacit contest regarding who is busier? For instance, you tell a friend that your day was jam-packed with back-to-back meetings and she tells you that she had to fly the organ-donor helicopter to Santa Inez and back to save two Nobel Prize–winning rocket-scientist twin sisters who both needed kidney transplants.
And you think you had a busy day?
I have noticed that a large percentage of belated email responses I receive include the words “crazy busy” or some derivative thereof in the first two lines. If I were writing in German, “crazybusy” would already be one word. I’ve been on the receiving end of that phrase so many times that I’m certain it will be included as a single word in the next edition of the OED.
Of course the ultimate manifestation of crazybusy is not to receive any response at all. Those nonresponses are from people who are so many clicks beyond crazybusy that they’re “overwhelmed,” “totally swamped,” “crushed,” “inundated.” And then when your paths casually cross at Whole Foods or Starbucks, their faces light up as they rush past you exclaiming, “I know I owe you a call. I’ve been crazybusy. Let’s get together next week!”
Busyness has become part of personal identity, how we get our sense of self. Eleven years ago David Brooks wrote of the new class of bourgeois bohemians nonchalantly trying to gain social status by besting each other with exotic vacation destinations: “Oh you were in St. Barts for Christmas? Antigua is so much less scene-y!” I think that busyness is a new status symbol that people use to measure themselves against other people.
When was the last time you heard someone say, “I sat in bed for the last week eating licorice and watching TV” and didn’t think he or she must be unwell?
Ever hear the phrase, “I want to be a human being, not a human doing?”
And this is how “yes” has become the new “no.” Because many of us have become human doings. Since the invention of multitasking, Descartes’ cogito ergo sum could now be translated as, “I’m crazybusy, therefore I am.”
And we’re all soooooooo crazybusy that we double-book, flake on meetings, cancel at the last minute via email, text important messages that shouldn’t be texted (pregnant! driving on freeway now! gotta stop smoking! sucks! will call later!), and wield caller ID like Luke Skywalker wielding a light saber.
Swoosh! Swoosh! “Oh, Joan’s calling … probably just to whine about her cat’s hairballs. It can wait. I’ll call her back later. Right now I’m crazybusy.”
But when crazybusy becomes your way of being in the world, later too often becomes never.
So “yes” is the new “no” because people say “Yes, let’s get together next week!” to your face, but after sundry emails and texts trying to schedule a place and time to meet, they give up and actual human connection flitters away into the ether.
We delude ourselves into believing that texting and emailing allow us more time to get things done. And we delude ourselves into believing that we’re really connecting with people through these new media, sans facial expressions, sans smells, sans body language, sans touch, sans eye contact.
Marin resident Tiffany Shlain, in her film “Connected,” says her family uses Shabbat to disconnect from all social media for 24 hours and connect face-to-face with each other and with friends. This is a brilliant idea we should all follow.
So let’s make an effort to engage in authentic and compassionate communication. Let’s take out our earbuds when we’re in a restaurant or café. Let’s show up for the human beings in our lives with face-to-face interactions.
The eyes are the windows to the soul. Not the thumbs.
So put down your iPhone, put down your BlackBerry, get up from your computer, and make a real connection with a fellow human being today.
Because you don’t want your tombstone to read, “Was Crazybusy.”
You want it to read, “Beloved.”
Ira Israel is a Santa Monica–based psychotherapist, certified yoga therapist and the writer of “Mindfulness for Urban Depression,” a DVD scheduled for release in June. For more information, visit www.optimumintegralwellness.com.