The Dictatorship of Diaries

Diaries take time, lay it out in a long line and chop it into little bits. They all do. In more or less sophisticated, clever, beautiful or techie ways perhaps, but essentially it is the same idea.

As if time is a piece of string.

This is not how I experience time. For me time has depth and layers and fuzzy endings and beginnings and intensity and quality and colour. More like a river than a piece of string.

I am not alone in this. Stewart Brand wrote about ‘Pace Layers’ in a wonderful chapter of his book ‘The Clock of the Long Now’. The Greeks distinguished between ‘chronos’ (quantative or clock time) and ‘kairos’ (qualitiative, propitious moments).

So the tools we have don’t work for me. Cutting time into pre-determined chunks that dictate what I should do based on some prior decision… What if I don’t feel like it? What if I am not in the mood? What if the activity I need to spend time on is a slow, long, rumbling, ruminative one that won’t fit neatly into a box? There are a thousand ways that the dictates of a diary don’t work or don’t help.

So, tool makers of the world, here’s a challenge. Can we design a diary, electronic or otherwise, that acknowledges the rich, complex, layered nature of time and helps us use it in a wiser, gentler, more creative way?


Rhythm versus Pace

One of my neighbours, Vicente, lives mostly off the land. Nature made him a very elegant calendar, with a beautiful cadence from one crop to another, preparing, sowing, fertilising, harvesting, pruning. Olives, then figs, then cherries, then chestnuts in a cycle of cycles throughout the year.

Quite a contrast to the clients who always want the workshop by the end of the following month. Three months go by, they call again, and curiously enough they still have to have it by the end of the following month, except that now its June not February.

To me, Vicente has light and shade in his way of working. There is an ebb and flow, which has both rhythm and harmony. Musical notions both, obviously. By contrast, the client wanting a workshop seems to me to have a flat, oppressive sense both of time and of their own priorities. There is little harmony or rhythm there, just a sense of building pressure and stress (driven by technology’s accelerating pace). As one of them said to me this morning “time is evaporating”.

I think we need to learn to appreciate variation more. If, as Tom Friedman suggests, the world is becoming flatter, we might ask ourselves what we have to do to find, or create, ebb and flow, peaks and troughs, intensity and reflection. In general, flat isn’t very attractive.

One thing might be to start to be more thoughtful about when the workshop really needs to be done by…..about when would be the right season for it. To think about whether it is connected more to sowing or reaping, fertilising or pruning. Do this, and my hunch is, we would find the rhythm of our own lives, like Vicente, who is one of the cheeriest people I know.

Slow Slow Quick

I met technology theorist Tom Chatfield in Oxford back in November. A few weeks later I sent him an e mail, inviting him to an improv session in London. I didn’t hear back for a while.

When I did, after about a month, Tom was profusely apologetic, bless him.

And yet there had been no rush, the event was still more than a month off (and he couldn’t come anyway). But it made me think about the assumption that if we don’t respond immediately, there is something wrong. While I am all in favour of showing people respect, it also strikes strike me that the immediacy of technology may insidiously be suggesting that immediacy is everything. That there is no place for the slow, deliberate, thoughtful reflective response. If so, then the important collapses into the urgent, we become less discriminating, less skillful at appreciating and understanding variations of rhythm and we get more stressed as a result.

So, if anyone owes me a response on anything that you feel is overdue, relax. You can quote this back at me.


My jet pack arrived

This afternoon I decided to try and do a Skype call from home.  Our house is remote – there is no phone line (and therefore no fixed line internet). In fact, there isn’t even mains electricity or water.

So I decide to use my phone as the connection. It will work with voice I reasoned.

I was wrong. It worked with video.

And while I was relishing the chance to share the beauty of the sunset with my friend Ed Brown in California, my wife called. And I found I could answer the phone and talk on it, even while I was connected on Skype to Ed. Blimey.

A few years back in Greenwich in London I saw a T shirt that said “technology has failed us – where’s my jet pack”. This afternoon, I felt like mine had arrived. And it reminded me that even though technology can be frustrating, we would do well to stay amazed at the extraordinary possibilities it brings. However uncool that may be.