The art of being offline (and doing nothing)

Let's talk trends. Social distancing forces us to rely on digital tools to communicate both professionally and personally. We stay connected with our colleagues thanks to programs like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams; we organise ourselves in communities through social media platforms and we meet new people through these platforms and dating apps. Although the adoption of these tools has been growing steadily in recent years, the Coronavirus crisis caused their usage to skyrocket universally and become normalised. 

When talking about 'connecting the world', 'efficiency' and 'a new era of technology', we sometimes forget to think about the drawbacks. Drawbacks like the fact that digital tools monopolize spare time. Think about it. When working at home, you often find yourself going in and out online meetings; not because you prefer so, but because you can. While offline meetings require people to drag themselves to a room, sit in a chair and tune in, online meetings have no physical limitations. Internet connection is key and since the majority of the world is connected, everybody should be able to tune in at any time. Going idle is not an option. It’s the nature of these new habits that changes our social behavior. In the brick-and-mortar office there are coffee-machine moments where people chitchat about last weekend’s football match, current affairs, or gossip about the latest family drama. Similarly, students use spare time in between classes to hang out in the park or play football. Although these activities may seem meaningless from an outcome-oriented perspective, they are incredibly important. Why? Precisely because of their meaninglessness! There is no target to be met when hanging out with friends or chatting at the coffee machine. Spare moments are free of ‘efficiency’, ‘productivity’ or ‘purpose’. The Dutch even have a term for this kind of recreation: ‘niksen’ – the art of doing nothing. It is this art that is being lost. So the next time you log in, don't forget to log out and practice the art of being offline and do nothing. 

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Wouter