Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for busy

Not long ago, a variety of people in my social media circles shared Tim Kreider's June 30, 2102 New York Times Opinionator blog post, "The Busy Trap." What struck me in Kreider's argument was this:
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. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
 I have found myself too often relying on "busy" as the stock response to the stock "How's it going?" My "busy" status really is "a boast disguised as a complaint" in both in face-to-face and social media exchanges. I'm boasting without boasting about taking classes, engaging in professional development, hanging out with friends, or any number of other activities that gain me status with a particular audience. Sure, I've taken on a lot, but I am the one who chose to do so.

I certainly see that addiction to "busy-ness" reflected in my students' lives. Like Kreider, I can remember large chunks of unstructured time in my childhood, even into my teens. But my students feel the pressure to be constantly engaged. Their hyper-connected worlds never allow for disconnection. They tell me that friends expect nearly instant responses to texts and social media mentions. Even their parents text them during school hours.

I can point to one former student's Twitter time as an example of hyperconnection. This young woman started her Twitter account in early 2011. Since then, she has sent over 51,000 tweets, which estimates is equivalent to spending 429 hours, writing 140 characters at a time. While I'll grant that this is an extreme example, some celebrities who are considered prolific Twitter users haven't spent near that amount of time. Author John Green (@realjohngreen) has logged over 21,000 tweets in the 5 years and 4 months he has had his account, spending 169 hours on this platform. Actor and blogger Wil Wheaton (@wilw) has spent 363 hours writing over 43,000 tweets in the 7 years since he started using Twitter. This former student has both beat, hands down; she had her account when I taught her and often used it to complain that she didn't have time for other activities. Her "busy-ness" was central in her online and offline identity. Busy is who she was and still is.

In my own life, I've tried to keep myself from using "busy" as a status or a status symbol. I do post busy status updates online, but many of them are the grousing among peer groups that helps us vent a little of the self-imposed pressures. I've also, believe it or not, started saying "no" more often. I'm not managing spring sports events at school, and I don't get to as many events there, either. I'm more consciously trying to "hold a space" as Jim Burke advocated in a blog post that I have taped next to my computer. My scheduled downtime has become more sacred. And perhaps that will help me break free of the cult of busy.

It's a work in progress.


  1. Boy can I relate--especially this school year. I have spent the entire evening writing: Two lesson plans for the Master Teacher Project and two blog posts for #BloggingAtoZ. While both tasks have value, I worry about how withdrawal will affect me at the end of the year. I hope I can breath and revel in boredom!

  2. I'm beginning to wonder if all of us teachers out here in cyberspace are the same - we put in all these extra hours creating "new" lesson plans and ideas because we can't bear the thought of standing still - we need to be busy people to be ourselves and then we challenge ourselves with finding yet another string to our bow - blogging or following others! It's wonderful to have found you through the A to Z challenge and can't wait to follow you through April - I just know I'm going to be nodding along and saying "How true!"

  3. Very good points about the cult of busy, says someone holding a couple few jobs. The object to remember is not to be "busy" just to fill time, but to aim that busy at a goal. Need to think a bit more about if my busy is the right type. Thanks for the reminder. - Erin Penn (AtoZ participant -

  4. My "no" year has been a good one. Enjoy the no.