Oh, brother.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you love bunnies?”

This was a text message I received from my teenage brother one afternoon.

‘This is utter nonsense,’ I said to myself. ‘I am too busy for this. I will respond to it later.’

It took me several hours to respond. In that time, said little brother had discovered that I did not sign out of Facebook at the home computer before leaving for work. By the time I returned home, after meeting a friend for dinner and chatting with another, I sent a brief text back—and went straight to bed.

18 hours later, when I logged onto Facebook, I saw a post—written from my account: “I just ♥ bunnies sosososo much. Meow.” Attached was a picture of a baby pygmy rabbit standing on its hind legs.

The post had already garnered several likes.

Nothing like a teenage little brother to keep your online presence classy and professional.

After quickly changing the password to my account, I reflected: this is what comes of being ‘too busy.’

This week, in a New York Times blog, writer Tim Kreider contemplated what he called “the busy trap.”

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are,” he writes. “It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’”

He goes on to point out that saying you’re busy is a sort of distinction in today’s day and age. Being too busy to read a book, spend time with friends, or take a leisurely walk is a badge of honor.

But how busy are people, really?

“Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are,” writes Kredier. “What those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ‘encouraged’ their kids to participate in.”

In other words, busyness is a choice, and it’s one that is—in some ways—unique to American culture.

I don’t generally support the myth that people in other countries, or in Europe, are not as busy or that they do not work as hard as Americans. (I often think that when Americans spend time in Europe, for example, they are less busy because they are away from home and therefore the culture (falsely) appears to be less busy).

On the other hand, there is something to be said for a conscious striving to be over-booked—which is, to me, a uniquely American phenomenon.

As Kreider notes, self-imposed over-scheduling is more of an issue than tiredness, though anyone who keeps up with an over-booked schedule for too long knows that it can, in fact, be tiring.

What suffers is not just mental health and the pure enjoyment of life, but the ability to really sink into things we love to do in a natural, organic way. We have to plan time with friends, pushing them off until a more convenient hour, when we can sync our schedules. It no longer feels as much fun when we finally meet up; it is another obligation on our long lists of things to do.

We have to set aside designated hours for pleasure reading. For making phone calls. For our hobbies. And how often is it that we can find a quiet moment?

There are many consequences to being over-booked and, in general, too busy.

I, of course, was reminded of this earlier this week, by a mischievous little brother, who reminded me to take a break, slow down… and, well, frequently change my passwords to my online accounts.

My only qualm with him: bunnies don’t say meow.

First published last week by the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press papers.

2 thoughts on “Oh, brother.

  1. _thp (@_thp) says:

    Loved this, and I found that article both interesting and relevant. I found most interesting that upon reflecting upon it, is that my only regret in being so busy is that I don’t have time to be more busy. Believe me, I understand how ridiculous that is, but I have so many things I want to accomplish and there are only 7 days a week and I don’t want to stop doing things with my band, I don’t want to stop doing improv, I don’t want to stop seeing Baxter, I don’t want to stop playing hockey, and I don’t want to stop dodgeball/kickball… it’s when I hang out with Mike if nothing else. I know it’s absurd. I want more time to have dinner and weekends with friends, but I also want to learn ASL and learn to paint and take some classes in design and actually develop a photo project and, and, and…

    I have so much I want to accomplish in life and a limited time – so I recognize the issues of being busy sometimes, but I’d rather be busy with silly hobbies than busy with over-working. :)

    1. kristinareardon says:

      I do think it’s different to be busy because you are working, like you say, rather than being busy ‘by choice’ with hobbies and social activities. I’ve found this past year that I am busy, but I am busy with the same two things all the time: school/reading and family. This summer, I am amazingly not busy, however, in the sense that I only work 4 hours a day and then spend the rest of my time doing non-structured, non-scheduled things (self study of Italian, reading, etc). This has come as a bit of a shock to the system in that I realize now how annoyingly busy I have been in the past… I enjoy this much more, though often my friends are so busy (and far away) that it’s not like I can just up and hang out with them all the time… But I also know that come September, I’ll be just as insane again :)

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