Recently, I started wearing a mechanical watch again and enjoyed it quite a bit - looking at something classic and solid rather than something digital. It gives the impression that time goes on forever, but I know my time on this earth is limited even though I don’t know my deadline. As I age, the awareness becomes more acute. With any limited resources - time, in this case, I have become more and more selective with how I spend my time and live my life.
In the past, I had the habit of walking around the mall to relax and unwind. As a bonus, if I saw something I liked, which didn’t always happen, I would reward myself with retail therapy. But recently, I removed a lot of that mindless window shopping because my latest purchases were borderline wasteful rather than fulfilling basic needs to being clothed. Every year, when I swapped my clothes out of storage to outside shelves, I always wondered why wouldn't what I had been enough this year if it was enough for last year.
Without wandering shops on weekends, I gained time. Immediately and easily, the white space was replaced with news scrolling. There was so much content out there, ready to gobble up my free time. I tried to keep up with “everything,” but I had a hard time consuming what was available and what came at me, all in the name of being informed and knowledgeable. How could the NYTimes, Atlantic, or New Yorkers be bad for me? Well, too much of anything is not good. Unread emails are useless. I went through an exercise of unsubscribing from most of the lists I was on. If I didn’t read the last five emails from a source, it was time to eliminate it from my inbox and life. In the morning now, my inbox gets two to four news emails. I still don’t read all of them on some days, but I feel this is more reasonable and manageable.
Social media scrolling was the next reflection point. At times, I could be a heavy social media user in the name of keeping up with family and friends since the introduction of Facebook and Instagram. But then, these companies changed their algorithms, and I no longer got updates from people I cared about. In addition, thinking more deeply about the broadcast mode of communication, I wasn’t sure who was getting my updates. To experiment, I deactivated my social accounts for one month, and guess what? Life went on. People who love and care about me still do. As more of my friends pull out, there are fewer genuine updates online. Instead of keeping up with my social network, I now occasionally visit.
Cutting out materials and reducing content, I’m replacing them with… content, specifically books. I have reacquainted myself with the library and couldn’t be any happier. As I said in Men and Books, not every book I pick is a match that leads to the last word on the last page. The library allows me to spend time on those that I prefer. I don’t waste time and money. Nothing takes up space in my house. I can still browse bookstores to discover new titles. Win, win, win.
But as I excitedly add new books to my wish list, I have to pause. I’d been overwhelmed by seeing all the books in the stores before. Like news and social media, there were so so so many books. If each (good) book was 10 hours of audio, how much time would books take from my life?
Time is the most valuable resource in life. After freeing time from saying no to things I don’t prioritize, I want the new habit or activity to be something I prioritize. And it is this, to spend more time with me, with my mind, whether to think about a book I just read or the latest happening of a loved one. I have this vision to let my mind be without feeding any more new content into it. Let it be free for a moment. Let it digest what’s inside a bit. Think for a second. Stop consuming more. I call this my “inside-out” time. I want to slot in mindful moments between books I spend my time on or whatever other than books.
I believe one of the reasons I. can be introvertedly and happily single is that I like spending time with my mind. I like wondering and spacing out: let’s walk around the park. I can entertain myself: oh, look at that beautiful flower. Spring is here. I find my mind interesting: let’s see what thought pops up. I know that I don’t need another human being by my side 24/7. Now, do I need a smartphone by my side 24/7?
Imagine living in a simpler time without a TV, internet, smartphone, laptop, or other “outside-in” technology. Can I simply be with myself for an hour or two each day, taking a longer break each stretch from my iPhone? Can I truly be alone in a high-quality way?
P.S. Interestingly, to me, writing is an inside-out activity. So writing gets a thumbs up. 🙂 The immediate thought then is, with so much content out there, do I have a good reason to generate more? But that’s a topic for a later post.