Quick, Look Busy!

I got to the bus stop this morning and every single person waiting there was on his or her cell phone. Every single person. Staring into a small, shiny, square piece of technology. I went into a panic. How would they know when the bus got there?

It seems like being on your cell phone is the new folding your arms. What happened to the days of standing around at the bus stop, staring at your feet, avoiding eye contact with others and folding your arms? And occasionally mixing it up by putting your hands in your coat pocket?

Has the need to play games, read emails, send text messages or listen to music overtaken our contentment to stand around looking awkward? Heck, when I’ve finished staring at my feet, I could always look at yours. Or even his.

There seems to be an urgent need all around always to be busy; to be doing something. What would happen if someone caught you just hanging out? When did we become obsessed with filling every waking moment with activities and information and doing things?

I am amused when friends update their status on Facebook with “so so so so busy”. Right, so how come you’re on Facebook? I have friends who bemoan their busy lives, but I never know what they’ve been doing, except being busy. And being busy reluctantly. With apologies to Shakespeare, they are the ones who have had busy-ness thrust upon them.

I went to a children’s day event on Robben Island a few years ago. On the ferry back to the mainland, I sat next to a woman who had been a celebrity guest at the event. She was a beautiful, striking woman and she had delivered a lovely “healthy living” message at the event. We sat down in the ferry, and she told me she had to catch up with all her messages on her phone. She said,
“I’ve had so many people contacting me this morning, and my friends just never leave me alone.”

I left her to her connecting. I glanced over to discover she was reading through the settings on her cell phone. She obviously had no messages, and yet she’d felt the need to tell me she had. That made me feel so sad.

When did it stop being okay just to be? When did we decide it was best to fill our lives to the brim with activity to the point that we lose sight of this moment? Does the one who dies, having had the busiest life, win?

At Camden Market recently, I saw a T-shirt with the slogan, “Jesus is Coming! Look busy.” I guess that says it all.

Sunshine signing off for today!


48 thoughts on “Quick, Look Busy!

  1. You make me feel guilty… Our FD at the agency is a right pain, he is a ‘lurking natterer’ and can go on for hours if he manages to get your attention. I have started furiously bashing at my phone when he comes anywhere near my desk 😦

    1. Didn’t mean to make you feel guilty, Cindy – sorry! Your busy-ness sounds strategic … Oh dear, do you think that’s why the woman on the ferry had to go on to her phone? hahahaha! 🙂

  2. So true! I loathe this self-important addiction to being “busy” when it is an addiction to feeling connected/important/distracted.

    With downtime, even while awaiting a bus, I may read a book or a magazine or — gasp! — just stare at the sky. Nothing on any piece of bloody technology is as important to me to being in space and time right then.

  3. It’s funny but when I am on a plane I feel as though I must be busy doing something other than just sitting. Surrounded by people reading, working on the computers or listening to their MP3 players, I feel like I should be doing something of importance to fit in. Maybe that’s how the woman on the ferry felt. A need to feel important or at least look it.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jeanne. I guess it’s true, but it makes me feel sad that just “being” is not perceived as important. I value your sharing your perspective.
      I hope your need to be busy doing something when you’re on the plane is not when you’re piloting it? Cos piloting it is pretty much the most important thing anyone could be doing! 🙂

  4. I’ve seen that shirt in New York, too, and loved it. In a way, what you’re saying is sort of related to what I said in my blog on Sunday: we need Sabbaths, whether the tradition one-day-a-week one or just the sort of waiting-for-a-bus one you talk about — actually, we need them both. I thought it was just Americans who were addicted to busyness. (Although I am not immune, myself. I used to take a Friday “sabbath” from my computer, but then my partner and I got back together — after 33 years (since freshman year in college) and, for several months, had to maintain a long-distance relationship, and I did not want to not have access to him on Friday. We’ve been living together nearly five years, but I’ve never gone back to just turning the thing off on Fridays.)

  5. oh, the busy-ness. it’s a disease, and we are its victims…I struggle with the busy-ness illness daily.
    It’s such a choice, these days…to unplug, to step away, to turn off to withdraw…and just…be.
    and, darn those cell phones–they lure us to stay connected and texted and plugged in.
    big sigh.

  6. Thank you for echoing my feelings exactly, Sunshine! I see people texting in the movies and think, what is so important? You just paid $12 to be here.

    The photo at the top of my blog is from Walden Pond of Henry David Thoreau fame. He wrote that book in the mid-1800s but even then he told people to “simplify, simplify, simplify” and “live deliberately” which we can’t do when we’re so busy being busy. I’ve tried to take those words to heart.

    1. We went to see Diane Birch (do you know her – she’s a fabulous singer!) in a club in Brick Lane last year. A young woman standing next to my husband was on Facebook through the entire hour that Diane performed. That made no sense to me … the same way you feel in the movies.
      Interesting that we’ve been struggling with busy-ness for hundreds of years … I like those words and the sentiment. Thanks.

  7. Must be a curse of the 21st century, Sunshine — I surely don’t remember people being so enamored of being busy when I was a kid! In fact, even just a few short years ago (when my kid was little!), people seemed to have a lot more time on their hands. Must be all this technology and forced connectedness!

  8. Cell phones, cell phones, everywhere. I’ve even seen moms at the park with their kids on the cell phone (the mom, not the kids). And, why must people talk so loud? I don’t need to know that your husband just got out of jail a few days ago (actually overhead in the supermarket). I’m trying not to become phone obsessed, but it’s hard…so very hard:) Love the post, Sunshine. Hugs for a hanging out kind of weekend. Diane

  9. Hi Sunshine:

    I really don’t get some people’s obsession with their phones…I use mine when it’s necessary (I never call “just to talk”). However, if some creepy person looks like they’re going to try to strike up a conversation with me, they do come in handy sometimes!


  10. I don’t use my cell phone so much. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles like other phones. It’s a phone. So, I answer it when it rings and text people who send me a text. And plug it in when the battery runs low. If I had one with facebook on it, I wouldn’t get anything done…like right now I’m reading your post while my fourth graders are having inside recess…Our school computers are blocked from using facebook..good thing lol..Have a great weekend, Sunshine!

  11. I laughed through this entire post. How funny, Sunshine, and so true!

    I’m going to raise my hand and say I’m as guilty as anyone. I think my obsessive love for my iPhone directly correlates to how much I hate small talk. If I look busy, I don’t to listen to that chick rattle off what she had for dinner last night, and I don’t have to listen to that guy talk about the weather.

    Sigh. You’re right. We should wear our social awkwardness as a badge of honor, rather than hiding behind our smart little mobile devices.

    1. Now that made me laugh, Maura – wearing our social awkwardness as a badge of honour! I do hear you, though – small talk is not fun. Somewhere in between small talk and avoidance would be great! Have a great weekend, my friend.

  12. If it makes you feel any better, I stand around looking awkward All. The. Time.;-)

    I think some people actually ARE busy (those CEOs and such with Blackberries for an actual reason), but most aren’t. It’s become unacceptable to relax.

    I remember being a kid and being chided for saying I was bored. How could you possibly be bored when there is so much to do? But now, I feel like being bored is chic and en vogue; doing something meaningful is so passé. On the plus side, it makes it easy to freak out strangers. A simple cheery hello and no cell phone in your hands is enough to make people look at you like you’ve escaped the loony bin.

    1. Thanks, 2blu. You’re right – some people are busy, and I get that, but it’s so great just to breathe and stand around looking awkward and un-busy, isn’t it? How to freak out strangers … that’s hilarious!

  13. With our lives today being so busy, and there being a constant sensory input via radio and television, I think people get bored doing nothing. So while they’re busy playing with their phones, it gives me a chance to people watch without being too obvious about it. I love my phone, but at the same time can spend literally hours just staring out of a window!

  14. Loved this post and this line in particular “Does the one who dies, having had the busiest life, win?” From the way people are obsessed, you would think this was a game of life & death huh?
    I’ve gathered over the years (from observation and personal experience), that people tend to pretend busy-ness when they need an excuse to avoid doing something they didn’t want to in the first place! I’m not much of a cell phone person at all. And I certainly don’t have the kind of life that demands constant contact with a million people…thank Goodness for that 😀

    Cheers, H.

    1. Thanks, Harsha – I agree with you and feel sad that there’s such a need to pretend to be busy, or to make sure that you are. I can see that you are a “stop and smell the roses” kind of person – it’s so important to do that. And have valuable time with your little boy!

  15. Wonderful post, Sunshine, and so true. I want that T shirt.
    I admit to a batsqueak of guilt when I read though: I was among the first to have an iphone: I have loved every minute since, but for all the wrong reasons. Have you seen the BBC series on silence? People are taken out of their lives on silent retreat, away from all the distractions, and it changes them profoundly. Think I might book myself in.

    1. Thanks so much, Kate. No, I haven’t seen that series on BBC – sounds fascinating, I’ll look out for it. My husband did a day’s silent retreat last year – he said it was amazing how much he noticed of what was going on around him in the silence. Mindfulness and being present in the moment, that’s the goal.

  16. I heard the late newsman Edwin Newman speak at a college campus maybe 20 years ago ago. He’d been a network TV reporter and anchor back when they hired unattractive people for such jobs. He was an old-school journalist, very no-nonsense. He said people spend too much time on distractions, thinks like Walkmen and car radios. Why, he asked, can’t we drive in silence and just think? I can only imagine what he’d think of iPhones and Blackberries. To this day, I think of him every time I turn off my car radio.

  17. I think it’s sad that the more advanced we get, the more we shut ourselves off from personal contact. I don’t understand why people feel the need to post every single thought on FB. “I ate breakfast”. Or, “I have the best wife in the whole world.” … “Thanks honey, I think you are the best husband in the world.” Why don’t they just tell each other in person? But, the important thing is to look busy and avoid eye contact.

    1. True, Darlene … and the two of them are probably in the same room at the time they write such comments.
      There was an item on the news this week about a young girl of about 14, who had sent inappropriate texts to a guy she liked, the texts were circulated and it all got out of hand. Turns out this young girl sends about 500 texts and 200 instant messages on BlackBerry messenger EVERY DAY! I can’t quite get my mind around that…

  18. I don’t often need my phone to discourage other people from interacting with me – which is the reason I’d grab my phone 99% of the time when I’m not really busy. A person needs to be very persistent for me to resort to that. Of course, having a book handy will be a bonus.
    I’m pretty good at tuning out and “inverting” while I’m observing and waiting. 😉

  19. For many years I used to part time for the city. Pretty lazy bunch of workers. The advice to avoid not being castigated for not being busy was to always be carry a tool of some sort. OK. When we were digging up the street I held a hedge clippers. When painting I carried a saw. When trimming trees I carried a shovel. No one ever bothered me. Perhaps they did not question me because they thought since I had a tool, no matter how inappropriate, they had to conclude I was doing something and did not want to look stupid by asking. The broom was my favorite.

  20. I do wonder what people did with themselves before they had cell phones to make them look busy. Then I remembered: They smoked. That was always ab activity that made you look like you were doing something. I remember when I smoked, standing at parties or in a movie line or wherever, sending a signal: “Don’t bother me. I’m busy smoking.”

  21. I am as guilty as sin Sunshine!
    I have so many things on my phone that keep me connected with the world. As soon as i have a few moments I log into News 24, Facebook and then onto Twitter. BUT To be even more of a cow….. the few minutes that i create are actually times when I really can not be bothered to make an effort with the people around me. It is so wrong- I know. BUT at least I dont pretend to love the crappy conversation that the ballet moms get themselves into. I dont pretend to care.
    More people in your lives mean more baggage. More stress, and more gossip. I dont really want to fall into that over and over again in my life. I choose who i want to be a part of my life. Dont get me wrong, i am a darling!! (Haha). Will always be teh first to smile, the first to greet and teh first to show I care- but only if i really care!
    So- simple simple simple….. put my head into my phone! I use my driving time to think.
    Our gransparents would be incredibaly embarressed that this is what our society has become.

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