Friday, March 04, 2011

If I could save time in a bottle...

Every morning I take the bus from my home to my college campus. It's not a long ride-- about fifteen minutes or so, depending on traffic. However, no matter what the printed schedules or the NextBus app say, the buses frequently run late. Sometimes this may be due to traffic, but in some cases I think it's just because some of the drivers have a rather creative relationship with time. Needless to say, on the days when I just want to get to campus, or just want to get home, this can require more than a little patience.

In this regard, I think, I am a quintessential northeasterner. I schedule my life well and often, and I habitually leave early to arrive early. I plan nearly everything. I've been this way for about as long as I can remember, and in many regards these tendencies have served me well, especially given that I live in a place where time and schedules are valued (WMATA not withstanding).

Recently, though, I've had some cause to consider my relationship with the clock. I'm leaving tomorrow on a trip to the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, and one of the things I learned from talking to people who have gone on the trip before is that the Cherokee view time in a much more lenient way. Things happen when they happen, so why worry? Why rush? Not at all the mindset I grew up around.

Yet I think there is something to be said for this style. I think it probably has to be adopted as a culture-wide phenomenon in order to be accepted-- if I adopted it for my life in DC, it would probably be viewed as sloppy-- but there are benefits to slowing down and being less Type-A about time. There's value in the idea of freeing yourself from the tyranny of the clock.

This obsession with time is something that seems to be built into the DNA of the people-- even the students-- that I spend my time with nearly every day. Part of it, I think, stems from our massive generational entitlement complex. Millennials are accustomed to the Internet age, in which we can get so many things instantaneously. This reality online translates into an expectation that everything should happen at the point we want it to appear-- which is generally NOW. We want the bus to arrive the second we pull up to the stop. We want the grades or papers to be announced practically as soon as we take the test (or at least within a week). We want our friends, family, or coworkers to respond to texts or calls or emails within minutes. We want, we want, we want...

The problem is that we forget that there are people, real people with their own concerns or flaws, behind what we want. Behind every bus is a driver, behind every grade is a professor... they are all individuals, often with similar desires or concerns. These tend to get in the way of our desires, but that's the way life goes. Technology will keep getting better and time will keep being something that we in the west value, but as long as there are people behind messages and vehicles and things like that, we will never achieve that level of instant reply that we wish for.

I suspect I will be reflecting more on these ideas over the week in Cherokee. I'm going to be disconnected from the Internet, probably almost totally, which will be quite a break for me, but I will get my reflections down on paper while I am there and write more on here when I get back (hopefully).

As Garrison Keillor says, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.