February 15th, 2008

alice lost in labyrinth

stress, social environment & symbols

The key for me in connecting stress to our social environment was realizing that today's way of being, both on-line and off, hasn't just accelerated the speed at which people's messages and facsimile selves move through space in time; it's compressed the actual experience of daily existence and saying what we have to say. The speed-up is built into the very medium in which the messages are written, commitments undertaken, performance measured, and so are its anesthetizing effects. They are integral to the trade-off involved in creating a pseudo, facsimile presence here, there and everywhere; for example, in contracted-out project teams or in on-line games and chat rooms. Like it or not, the medium itself exerts a bias toward superficiality and human disconnection even while connection and being in touch, technically speaking, have never been easier. This is because the medium itself packs a bias, or message, if you understand “medium” the way communication scholar and literary critic Marshall McLuhan did, as environment, the material through which we articulate our existence and express ourselves. Knowing this, I realized that the numbing, and all that follows, is implicit in how we represent ourselves in the flickering medium of data on the Net which can move at the speed of light precisely because they are only symbols of ourselves and reality.

[...]

When the story being told is just symbols cut off in time and space, there's nothing much to grasp or to become involved with as a whole person relating to a shared reality with others. And if there's no time to re-engage with the larger picture and gain a sense of being fully present, if the next call is waiting, the next meeting is scheduled, the reality in front of you can largely remain just flash and surface --- click, on to the next thing.

[...]

I sensed a link between stress as a disease of our times and stress as a more generalized symptom: of social institutions that are losing their integrity and of a society that is losing touch with what's real and what really matters.

[...]

In an age when time is money, the time for listening and reflection is atrophying. The pace that face-to-face dialogue requires, including pauses for gathering one's thoughts, is becoming too boringly slow.


source: all of the above is from No Time Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies
alice lost in labyrinth

we are time

As time historian Barbara Adam states simply, “We are time,” moving to the rhythms of life within and all around us, or not. The smallest indivisible unit of this time, this internally experienced time as life, is neither the minute nor the nanosecond. It is rhythm itself: rhythm in relationships. Intuitively, we know this and acknowledge it when we talk of biorhythms and someone falling into step with others or rejoining a conversation 'without missing a beat.”

The foundations of human time, to this day, are not found in the tick-tocking of the clock but in the pulse of life flowing between people and within the body. Time is anchored in the beat of the heart and its systolic (compression) and diastolic (relaxation) phases.

[...]

Clock time is altogether separate from the body and the actual experience of life; yet Mumford says, it has become the new “medium of existence,” the way in which much of life is experienced. Disconnected from the rhythms and events of real life, clock time is also infinitely divisible and compressible into shorter and shorter “timelines.”


source: all of the above is from No Time Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies
alice lost in labyrinth

stress & circadian rhythms

The concept of stress, as we know it, dates to the mid-1800s, when the English medical journal The Lancet described a form of nervous fatigue resulting from the “incessant shifting of the adaptive apparatus” of perception as objects flashed by the train window. After two world wars and confrontations in Korea and Vietnam, over the course of which it was called “shell shock,” then “combat exhaustion,” “battle stress” and “combat fatigue,” the shock or fatigue involved was understood to be a generalized psycho-neurological ailment, a state of dis-stress or dis-ease, of being unhinged from one's normal basis of equilibrium. By then the stress associated with combat had been studied to the point that preventative action had almost eliminated it. Two factors seemed critical. First, battle stress tends to set in after prolonged, sustained exposure to continuous bombardment and continuous crisis. Second, it also results from a constant experience of the unexpected, of things being beyond one's control and, with this, a growing sense of being overwhelmed and unable to cope. The remedy seemed to be to rotate people away from the front lines before their coping capacity broke down, though this didn't become army policy until after World War II. By that time, too, a third factor had been understood, namely the danger of soldiers being alone and cut off from each other. One key to preventing stress was “the sustaining relationships with others of the battle group.”

[...]

To recover to normal cycles after prolonged stress, circadian rhythms need up to five days. Otherwise, stress-hormone levels stay up, even on so-called rest days. The immune system becomes exhausted and endorphins depleted, lowering a person's tolerance for pain and discomfort and increasing their anxiety to the point even of triggering panic attacks. In the words of one researcher, “The mind becomes obsessed with petty problems, and thoughts keep going 'round and 'round like a stuck record.”

Scientists across a range of disciplines have found that stress not only throws the body's pH levels out of balance but causes a rise in cortisol and a drop in salivary immunoglobulin A. Cortisol, which is pumped out of the adrenal gland, is considered the “negative” coping hormone because it causes digestive problems and sleep disturbances.


source: all of the above is from No Time Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies
alice lost in labyrinth

delete & disappear / falling through cracks

I consider for a moment what he's said and have an image of people pressing the “delete” button on themselves. I ask him if this is an appropriate analogy.

“Yes,” he says. “Pressing the delete button is a good way of putting it. A lot of times people press the delete button on their own life and certainly on their relationships. That has really been brought on by the relentless acceleration and intensity and speed and the real competitiveness of contemporary culture.” He pauses, then adds, “Something human has been lost in the coming-to-be of an advanced technology.”

“What is that?” I ask.

“For one, a sense of time. An epochal sense of time as duration. Reflection of one's existence. An ability to really exist and have complex human relationships with others. We have already pressed the delete button on a number of things that are really indispensable to building up human culture....”

[...]

“It can become very impersonal,” he continues, “when you're pushed to deal with a number of individuals that are showing up in your queue. There's pressure to go through it quickly. And the faster you go, the more impersonal it becomes. When you're just dealing with numbers, it's very easy to forget that you're dealing with people. You're dealing with lives; you're dealing with feelings, with goals, desires. Many of the people are arriving at the welfare doorstep with their dreams and desires crushed because of their financial situation or their circumstances, abuse or whatever their reason is for not being able to hold down a job.... It becomes a matter of processing the individual rather than really looking at them as a human being. And it's the time constraints. The drive to do things faster and more efficiently. More people in less time.”

[...]

I ask Sandy if there's a certain pace that empathy requires.

“That's a good point. Yes, it does take time to get to know another individual.”

“And to give them a chance to sense that you care?”

“Exactly. And it certainly doesn't appear in a list of forty questions. 'How are you?' is not one of the forty or fifty questions we ask.”

“So this empathy can just sort of disappear?”

“Yeah. The pace has to be slowed down; that's true for any relationship.”

I wonder aloud whether this is how people can “disappear.”

“Sure. It has to be. People fall through the cracks.”


source: all of the above is from No Time Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies
alice lost in labyrinth

play / time / simplicity / dialogue / change

Time for play is essential for a healthy sense of ourselves, being engaged in the world and knowing who we are. Now, however, playtime, especially shared playtime, is no longer the norm but the exception to how kids spend their time in many, particularly middle-class, communities. In fact, some of the centuries-old games that older children passed down to the younger ones, including double-dutch skipping rhymes and Mother May I are being forgotten, and what Merilyn Simonds calls the “underworld of children's culture” is being lost.

[...]

My own belief is that although on-line networking and face-to-face communities are often depicted as opposites, they work best as a blend. As Putnam says, “An extensive, deep, robust social infrastructure of relationships must exist so that those using the electronic media will truly understand what others are communicating to them.” That is, through personal reflection and sustained dialogue with others both on-line and off, people can make the ephemera of mere data real and hold the borderline fictional to account as they interpret it in a context of shared understandings and mutually trusted words. But it requires regular conversations to temper the stimulated and abstract world in which, without even realizing it, people can become dissociated from the consequences of a phone call left unreturned or a data field left incomplete. Dialogue remains the foundation of civic engagement; it both helps people to feel fully present and to take responsibility, and challenges them to do so.

[...]

I've become a convert now that I realize that voluntary simplicity is also about recovering a sense of self in local and personal things, and feeling anchored in place and time through them. We end up wanting less because we get that much more out of what we have. What philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin called the “aura,” the “authentic” presence of an object imbued with the character of a place because the people who made and used it wove their particular talents and traditions into it, applies also to people. It's through time, then, that objects and people take on the distinctive character of place. Of course, this is precisely what gets lost when objects become mere commodities in the standardized space-time compressions of the global economy. And it's our individual selves that get worn away when we're going too fast, on-line and off, buying into new identities and investments, getting more things, getting more things done faster, processing our lives in a blur of fast-forwarding efficiency and servicing all the technology.

[...]

I expect the will to change things as a society will emerge only when enough people take the time to stop and really pay attention to their experience and the stories of the people they know and care about. It will begin when a critical mass of people realizes that time does matter --- not just how we “spend” clock time, but how we live in time. Clock time is merely an artifice, a device used to organize, schedule and regulate life. Seconds and nanoseconds are mere abstractions. Taking our time means articulating the embodied experience of life. It doesn't just mean designating time for dialogue. It means living the time of dialogue and making that face-to-face experience real, which includes respectful listening, searching for commonalities, reconciling differences of opinion and moving toward possible consensus.

[...]

It's equally about time. It's about stitching time and space together differently and realizing that you can because [...] we are the seams, and we stitch ourselves together through shared experience.


source: all of the above is from No Time Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies