Why We Lost Our Groove & How To Get It Back
Part 1: We are out of sync and we lost our groove!
“For thousands of years, most human societies have accepted and moved in harmony with the irregular rhythms of nature, using the sun, moon and stars to understand the passage of time. […] But since the 14th century, we’ve gradually been turning our backs on nature and calculating our sense of time via manmade devices [and ideologies].”
Part 1: We are out of sync and we lost our groove!
If you are an avid reader of this newsletter, you might have spotted that I’ve been increasingly interested in our relationship with time and its implications. In a recent Rabbit Holes issue, I shared the following observation:
I don’t know if you feel the same, but lately (or actually, since the pandemic) I have the feeling that nobody really has time anymore. And planning something with friends or family has somehow become so cumbersome and work-like. Why is that?
Sociologist Hartmut Rosa has an interesting analysis of our relationship with time which, according to him, is experiencing a loss of meaningful connection between the past, the present, and the future. Time (or how we perceive it) is basically out of sync! And Rosa claims that this is ultimately leading to a situation in which we are in a constant mode of aggression or alienation toward the world and time itself. And yes, depression and burnout or anxiety are basically extreme examples of this.
If GIFs like the one above resonate with you, keep on reading 😉.
Oh, and I should say this is a two-part series, meaning that in this issue, part 1, we will look into why we lost our groove. Next week in part 2, we will look into solutions that help us get our groove 🕺 back, or what Hartmut Rosa calls building a world full of ‘resonance’ 👀.
Alright! Here we go:
Our Relationship(s) With Time
We constantly think about time, look at it on our watches or smartphones, and from time to time (pun intended) reminisce about the past or envision what life we might live in the future. According to Rosa, our relationship with time can be split up into three categories or levels:
1. The Time of Everyday Life: Daily routines, schedules, etc.
Here time is always scarce. One always has to run from one thing to the other. You’re constantly struggling for time, while it’s difficult to just be (in the) present.
2. The Time of Your Life: The biographical perspective (e.g. childhood, retirement,…)
This time only comes to our attention in times of crisis or passage. For example, when you finish school or retire, or when you realize you don’t like your job. Here then the question becomes: What do I want to do with my life? Or how do I want to spend my life?
3. The Time of Your Age: Characteristics of an epoch (e.g. the 21st Century, the 60s, or the Internet age,…)
This time relationship serves as a kind of background structure to which we measure our expectations to. Some might say “I don’t fit in today’s age”, or we might define someone as “ahead of her time”.
Now here comes the important point:
According to sociologist Rosa, people will experience a good life when these three relationships with time are aligned with each other. Basically, when they’re in sync. So, for example, the day-to-day job aligns with what you learned in the past and with what you want to do with your life, as well as with the narratives and needs of the age or epoch you are in.
Now, what’s unfortunately happening these days is that due to things moving so fast – economic growth, new technologies, new truths disrupt old wisdoms, new cultural narratives supersede old ones… – it becomes increasingly difficult to align these three relationships with time. And the result of that is that we end up feeling some sort of aggression 😠 or alienation 😰 toward the world:
“Modern societies are characterized by their mode of dynamic stabilization. This means that they can only reproduce their structure and maintain the institutional status quo by constantly achieving economic growth, technological acceleration and cultural innovation. This creates a 'need for speed' that requires individuals and organizations to constantly seek opportunities for rationalization and optimization. After all, it is us, the individuals, who need to grow, accelerate and innovate incessantly, i.e., to run faster and faster each year just to stay in place.
However, the incessant social pressure for acceleration and growth has an ugly flipside: It enforces a basic mode of 'aggression' towards the world (i.e. towards internal as well as external nature) and leads in turn to towering forms of alienation which quickly turn into political anger and frustration.”
Said differently, you know what you have to do on a daily basis to do your job and your weekly chores and so on, but the to-do-list seems to never end, and most of what you do doesn't really open up a meaningful horizon of your lifetime. And it might also not connect to what you did in the past, or to a narration, to a story of today’s age and ideas of the future.
If the above in some ways links to observations you have made, or to your own experience, then you’re not the only one. I think Hartmut Rosa’s three relationships with time and this idea of aggression or alienation are great frameworks for looking at what’s happening these days. So below, I tried to make all of this theory more practical by linking some observations (also from my previous issues) to what is changing in our relationship(s) with time.
The Time of Everyday Life
or What’s On My To-Do List?
The key new drivers of change here, in my opinion, are:
Remote Work, causing the boundaries between work and life to disintegrate
Globalization & the Internet, work-time (& play/entertainment-time) never stops in an always-on, always-connected world
Social Media, boosting social comparison & competition dynamics
Attention Economy, linked to the above, but accentuated by algorithms that compete for attention and eyes (the recent surge of TikTok)
Productivity & Self-Improvement Ideals, “time is money” and you need to become more productive and efficient only to stay in the game
Consumerism & Convenience, kind of the current solution to our everyday-time problem – convenient services that save time – which however just end up exacerbating the root problem
Here are a few snippets that relate to the topics above and exemplify our changing relationship with this category of time:
"Monochronic cultures [one thing at a time] may be more ‘efficient’ in their use of time, but in their treatment of time as a commodity, they lose the richness that comes with allowing tasks, conversations, and interactions to move forward at a more natural and sustainable pace."
“What would a calendar look like that prioritized and protected caregiving? What about one that understood crip time, or different types of relationships and the soft but consistent focus they demand? That understood creativity, and children, or grief?”
The Diminishing Returns of Calendar Culture - Culture Study by Anne Helen Petersen
“Have you ever thought to yourself, why is it that most of us love the end of the year? The reason we enjoy the holiday season is because of their anti-capitalistic nature. […] Things slow down, people gather and celebrate convivially the fruits of our labor. We give instead of take. We share instead of steal. We forgive and forget. We need not lose sight of the true meaning of a holiday, where we socially waste our time together to eat, drink, and be merry.”
[…] Convenience — that is, more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks — has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies.”
“[What] today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge [is] that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place.”
The Time of Your Life
or What Shall I Do With My Life?
The main drivers of change here are:
The Pandemic (of course!), an unprecedented, worldwide crisis that allowed people to take a step back and rethink what they want to do in their life
Purpose & Meaningful Work, new career or life aspirations, essential vs. non-essential work, and high levels of disengaged employees
Lifelong learning + working, as the typical learn (school) > work (career) > rest (retire) sequence becomes a thing of the past
Hustle culture, and the idea of sacrificing your 20s, your social life, or your weekends to become wealthy
Not Worth It Jobs, the experience that hard work isn’t worth it (materially, spiritually, socially) anymore
Again some observations relating to the above:
“‘nonessential’ is a word that invites creeping nihilism. This thing we filled at least eight to 10 hours of the day with, five days a week, for years and decades, missed family dinners for ... was it just busy [nonessential] work?”
Age of Anti-Ambition by Noreen Malone
The Time of Your Age
or “I Live in the Wrong Decade!”
These are, in my opinion, the main drivers of change for this time category:
Future Uncertainty & Anxiety, many crises and challenges, the complexity of the world, blurry futures and no new, compelling, positive visions of the future
Climate Breakdown & Biodiversity Crisis, the fear of losing nature as we know it and of the catastrophes that come with nature and a climate that’s out of balance
Nostalgia, things were better, more simple, less complex, or easier in the past
New Cultural Norms, conflicting with old norms, habits and viewpoints
Technological Utopianism & Digitalization, the age of tech and digital, and the wishful idea that technology can solve everything
Colonialization Truths, people realize the injustices that “built” and still enable the civilizational advancements and conveniences of today
The Age of AI, the fear of getting automated, of losing control
The Era of Decarbonization & Sustainability, “unlearning” our fossil fuel addiction, and shifting the overall economic and power structures
“The more we synchronize ourselves with the time in clocks, the more we fall out of sync with our own bodies and the world around us.”
“In the natural world, the movement of ‘hours’ or ‘weeks’ do not matter. Thus the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the sudden extinction of species that have lived on Earth for millions of years, the rapid spread of viruses, the pollution of our soil and water — the true impact of all of this is beyond our realm of understanding because of our devotion to a scale of time and activity relevant to nothing except humans.”
I could have of course added even more observations and signals to the lists above, and you might have also thought of others or additional ones. But I think this gives us already a good idea of why Hartmut Rosa might be right in his assessment. Especially his point about alienation – i.e. the feeling that you have no connection with what is around you (the world, society, people, work, objects… time) – is something that, I think, becomes very compelling when looking at the observations above.
So how can we change this? How can we get our groove back? 🕺
Next week, in part 2, we will explore the idea of ‘resonance’ and a new way to measure the quality of life! Because the quality of life can not be measured in terms of resources, options, or moments of happiness. Rather, we should consider our relationship to, or resonance with, the world and what’s around us.
More next week! 😉
// Update: Click HERE for Part 2!