Dumbing down

KairosDo you ever have the feeling that you’re gradually dumbing down? I do. Since I left university 12 years ago, it just seems like I don’t stimulate my brain enough. I give up too easily. Because really, really thinking about anything is hard. And so is achieving depth of engagement with any one subject in among the noise, the competing demands on my attention. So life becomes a kind of jumble of almost-knowledge: facts half-remembered from a documentary I watched six months ago, opinions gathered second-hand from newspapers and radio journalists; stuff I read on Facebook.

Thank god I went to school and university just before social media became inescapable, as the decline of my attention span has been palpable since I started spending a lot of my time on Facebook and Twitter. I believe that scientists have in fact found that the average attention span has declined in recent years (I think I heard that on Radio 4, or I might have read it on Facebook…). I struggle to watch a three-minute YouTube video all the way to the end these days, let alone read a chapter of Baudrillard.

Lately, I have missed those days when I engaged my brain. The small satisfaction of reading a poem over and over again until a small bit of its meaning unlocks itself. The quietness of spending a few hours in the library with a pile of books and articles. I even (sort of, almost) miss the computer I used to type my essays and dissertation on, a clunky old box that wasn’t even connected to the internet. How blissful, she writes after closing down the Facebook tab on Chrome for the fourth time since starting this post.

I am doing small things to make amends: I deleted the Facebook app from my phone recently, which has made a little bit of difference. I periodically toy with the idea of deleting my Facebook profile altogether, but fear the impact on my social life (missed invitations, parties, gigs) and, as part of my working week these days is spent planning and managing crowdfunding campaigns, I need to stay ‘plugged in’ to social media – so the best I can do is manage my consumption.

I’ve also started reading poems before I go to work. Given that I can start work at 10am and live about a five-minute walk from either of my places of work, I technically have time to go for a run, write a novel and engineer world peace in the morning. In practice, I still often end up rushing but whenever I can, I sit in the rocking chair in the bay window and read a poem. I try to read it a few times and, lo and behold, bits of meaning unlock themselves.

In order to further reengage my brain, my current reading matter is non-fiction – a fairly rare occurrence. It’s a book of essays about Kairos, ‘the god of the right moment’. Kairos, Zeus’ youngest son, has a bald head save for one long forelock, so you can catch him. Those who do are rewarded with insight, innovation, and inspiration. The book is a plea for escaping the regimented ‘clock time’ that is our current societal norm and allowing ourselves to see and do things differently. A dear friend bought it for me last year, perhaps with a nod to my own attempts at catching Kairos. But it’s good to read it now, almost a year after the end of my career break – not just to jolt my brain cells into pondering Nietzsche and Heidegger instead of Buzzfeed, but also to pause and think about whether, if I were to spot Kairos in the corner of my eye, I’d have the wherewithal to seize his lock before he slips away.

The other day I was sitting in my rocking chair reading Sunday Morning by Louis MacNeice. It made me think about Kairos, the escape from time, and Chronos – our normal ‘clock time’ symbolised, possibly, by MacNeice’s skull-mouthed church bells. In the poem, the bells serve to remind us, rather bleakly, that ‘there is no music or movement which secures / Escape from the weekday time’ – a cue, surely, to put my book away and go to the office. The point being, however, that one brain-nurturing thing I was reading enhanced my understanding of the other, which was really rather pleasing and perhaps a sign that I can coax my dormant grey cells back to life after all.

By the way, thanks all of you who have noticed and commented on my absence on here. You’re all lovely. For all my good intentions at the start of this year, it appears that I am headed the way of one of my favourite magazines when I was younger, De Poezenkrant – a wonderfully random and eccentric collection of cat-related content which ‘appeared sporadically’, i.e. whenever they managed to actually finish an issue. If you can all cope with the suspense, I will continue to publish sporadically, as I am not quite ready to kill this blog and yet for many reasons feel currently unable to stick to my previously imposed weekly post frequency. Thanks for bearing with the tumbleweed in the mean time.

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6 thoughts on “Dumbing down

  1. Anne, It won’t come as a surprise to hear from me that, as usual, you are underplaying your intellectual capabilities. Anyway who can mention Baudrillard, Nietzche, Heidegger and even know how to spell them and to be reading Louis MacNeice cannot be dumbing down. You could never do that! The ideas of Chronos and Kairos are important though. In my field of work they are concepts that are taught to trainees in order to help them understand the difference between, just what you say, the structured time we have to adhere to in this world of instant gratification in contrast to another kind of more meaningful time that cannot be measured. The second is the hardest to grab hold of and is what makes life valuable and satisfying.

    • Thanks Diana, as ever you flatter me! I fear there is a difference between ‘name dropping’ some philosophers and actually understanding/engaging with them on a meaningful level though – whilst I can spell, I sadly cannot lay claim to the latter! I nearly didn’t publish this post because I was worried about how pretentious I sound… But there is something truthful at the heart of it and it’s been very enlightening to read more about Kairos and to ponder how one can get hold of him… Interesting to learn that this concept is also taught to trainees in your field!

  2. I am not flattering you but you need to believe in yourself. Apologies for my spelling mistake – supposed to read anyone not anyway! Read Entirely by Louis MacNeice – roughly along the same line – a poem I usually give to trainees at the end of their training.

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