You don’t know how to relax properly and it’s time to change that.
By Peter Hoare
As I type this, I’m sitting at the Department of Motor Vehicles in beautiful Long Island, New York. Now, before I proceed, allow me to implicitly state that if you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting one of Long Island’s lovely DMV locations, you’ve truly yet to live.
It’s a place where people seemingly enjoy a day of multiple renewals, first their methadone prescription, then the registration to their 1996 Nissan Sentra.
All the employees look like extras from a 1996 episode of Roseanne. One guy to the right of me is wearing a leather jacket with a Looney Tunes logo proudly emblazoned on the back. I’ve been trying to snap a good picture of it since I sat down. I’m just gonna call it like I see it: The entire roster here is a real C team at best. I’m actually kicking myself for changing out of my sweatpants this morning.
Anyway, while sitting here, appreciating these suburban standouts like that creep in American Beauty did his floating plastic bag, one specific thing strikes me: Everyone in this godforsaken hell hole looks jittery, miserable and, more importantly, undoubtedly impatient.
One guy is incessantly tapping his finger against his knee, grumbling to himself that “he’s been waiting here for a f**kin’ hour!” Then there’s the old lady directly in front of me who I’ve noticed refreshing her Gmail no less than six times in the past 10 minutes. Then there’s the super classy Puerto Rican couple to the right of me who are loudly fighting with one another. The guy is furious that his female counterpart didn’t do this online, whatever “this” may be.
Folks, we live in Impatient America.
Now, I’m no moron. I realize that no able-minded human being would consider any DMV their happy place. Regardless, this particular cross section notwithstanding, observing the general anxiousness of everyone surrounding me right now made me reflect on the short fuse mentality that society as a whole has adopted, myself included. Before locking down these first few paragraphs, I checked my email twice, my Facebook once.
We want what we want and we want it immediately! These days, if we don’t receive what we want as soon as we decide we want it, we will bitch and moan, either loudly or internally.
I know countless people who don’t watch television shows during their initial run because they lack the ability to patiently wait, week to week, watching the story slowly unfold in real time. No, they want to see it all right now, back-to-back. Binge watching, right? Remember when “binge” was a term almost exclusively relegated to the description of how an alcoholic drinks? And I shouldn’t say “they” when I reference this, I should say “we”. I literally did this last year with Breaking Bad. I was told that waiting was a painstaking process, that I should hold off until the final season — I did just that. And, yes, I do imagine that watching it in real time was likely frustrating. But why?
In 2014, just weeks south of 2015, patience is a virtue that’s all but extinct.
Why can we no longer relax? Why do the majority of us inexplicably feel the need to interrupt every single silent moment in our lives by staring at some form of receiver?
When I wake up every morning, I instantaneously grab my cell phone with all the urgency of an attacked police officer reaching for his pistol. I imagine many of you do the same. Why? You know who sends emails overnight? No one. Automated spam. Quiznos emailed me last night!
And why am I feverishly checking Twitter before leaving bed? Am I under the assumption that I set the world on fire with whatever mediocre wiener joke I tweeted prior to dozing off?
I recently wound up at a local bar in a conversation with a couple who blatantly admitted that they no longer read books. Their reasoning behind it was that they simply get bored. They’ll consume knowledge in blurbs, articles and 140-character-or-less tweets, but rarely will they crack an actual binded book. So not only do we now require instant gratification in almost every possible scenario, but also, in some instances, brevity.
Here’s a ridiculous fact: The Roosevelt Field Mall, the ninth largest mall in the nation and by far the largest in New York, no longer contains a book store. Seriously. Unless it’s a cat picture-heavy coffee table book in an Urban Outfitters, you simply can’t buy a book at New York’s largest shopping mall.
Few things put your mind at ease more than reading a book. But that may be where the problem lies. How many of us have simply forgotten how to wind down? How many of us now inexplicably want all of our synapses to be firing at full blast at all times?
Personally, I’ve gradually become truly rotten at relaxation. If I’m watching a movie, something I honestly love to do, I’ll often use my stupid phone multiple times throughout, often to do something as mind-numbing as playing a game of Words With Friends. I’m ashamed to even type that sentence, but it is what it is.
In the past, I was able to sincerely enjoy a good traffic jam, which is something that, as a New Yorker, I’m constantly in the midst of. I’d listen to music, zone out, and just, in general, clear my head. I’d think more. I’d create more. I’d reflect more. Few things relieve stress like silence.
However, now, for reasons I can’t entirely comprehend, I’ve lost the ability to genuinely space out, which is something that, make no mistake about it, is healthy. We often treat silence as a void that needs to be swiftly filled. I’ll spend entire car rides shuffling through podcasts while simultaneously writing emails and checking Instagram. I should probably be dead right now — a modern-day wreckless driving statistic.
I’m far from one of those people who sh*ts on social media. I’m a huge proponent of technological evolution; If you don’t embrace it, you often, in many ways, get left behind. Not having Facebook now is akin to not liking e-mail in 1994, but sometimes, just sometimes, I’m afraid that certain aspects of said evolution are turning our brains into mush.
When we’re eternally distracted, which many of us are, the way we soak in information is wildly diluted. If you try and read a book while also doing something else, you wind up doing a piss poor job at both, ultimately negating any positive benefits you’d receive from either. Why would we want that?
So what’s the answer? Perhaps it’s to just slow the f**k down. Maybe we take a step back and see certain elements of progression for what they may truly be — regression. More people are anxious, stressed and depressed than ever before. If there was a chart that showed Xanax prescriptions on one line, then the number of iPhones per household on another, they’d likely be running neck and neck.
Having a black hole’s worth of information at our fingertips is incredible, as is the ability to keep up with an old college friend via a small rectangle in your pocket, but what we need to remember is that the same can be said for laying in a hammock, having a cocktail and listening to a new record over and over again until the lyrics are tattooed on your brain.
That guy tapping his knee and cursing to himself is still doing just that. The same can be said for the miserable Puerto Rican couple. Me? I’m about to put my headphones in, listen to the new We Were Promised Jetpacks record and not worry about a damn thing. My number will be called when it’s called. Until then, I’m going to relax. Or at least try to.