Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hurry up and wait

Pic of the week

Quick, Europe's version of McDonald's, was founded in Schoten, Belgium in 1971.  Photo by John Weaver

A couple of weeks ago while on my way to work, I ran into an ex-colleague who was outside having a smoke. She didn’t move very far when she changed jobs – her new office is right next door to mine – but when I asked her how she was doing, her answer was miles different from the last time I saw her. She wasn’t stressed anymore, she didn’t say how busy she was, she didn’t complain that her boss expected everything to be done yesterday. No, she said she was doing “Fine.” 

That was a relief to hear. Not just because I’m happy that my ex-colleague, a really nice lady who was pushed so hard at work that she left with health and anxiety issues, is doing much better. But also for the simple fact that “Busy” seems to be the de facto reply to every elevator conversation I’ve had in the past few weeks. 

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of dropping the busy bomb once or twice myself. I guess I just got caught up in the craze. But for a guy from Ohio, which has the best small talkers North of the Mason Dixon line, I should know better because that really is bad chitchat. Unless it’s a cry for help, no one wants to hear how busy you are, especially not on a 30 second elevator ride. Here’s an example of a recent elevator conversation I’ve had:

Me: “Hey Patrick.”
Patrick: “Oh, hi John.”
Me: “How’s it going?”
P: “Okay, but not any less busy with the summer holidays.”
Me: “I hear ya, it’s the same for me.”

* Ding. Elevator doors open and Patrick gets out. 

I’ve either had or overhead some version of this conversation probably 50 times in the last month. Why is everyone so busy? Why am I so busy? Is it just an easy way to get rid of someone, like this quirky little piece in The New Yorker suggests? Or is there a deeper, more frightening social trend going on, one fed by our constant connection to digital devices, where we “need” to be busy doing something (even electrocuting ourselves apparently, this study says) because we can’t just relax and be one with our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions anymore? 

*Ding. Elevator doors open and that’s my exit.

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