Thoughts of a geek

22 July 2012

Busyness and loneliness

Filed under: Me, The Blog Roll — Tags: , , — qwandor @ 10:37 am

This post has two parts which I mostly wrote at different times and are not very well tied together, but they relate to the same topic so I am posting them together. The first part was written mostly some days ago in the middle of the night on my phone while lying in bed and only slightly edited later; the second was written this afternoon and evening based on various thoughts and conversations over the last several weeks. Perhaps a better editor than I could link them together properly. I will leave you to make of them what you will.

I live a privileged life. I live in one of the great cities of the world. I have a job at a great company where I earn more than the vast majority of people in the world, work with a bunch of really intelligent and interesting people, get free food and various other benefits and am not overly stressed. There are plenty of things going on in London to see and do, places to go, and almost any sort of entertainment available. All of Europe is fairly easily accessible, given the time and motivation to actually organise a trip somewhere. I could go on.

And yet, there is something missing.

And yet, in the times when I do not keep myself busy, in the hours between coming home and getting to restless sleep, when I think a little, perhaps near a contemplative mood, I am frequently lonely and dissatisfied. People talk about the modern curse of busyness, but perhaps sometimes this is what it is an escape from. An attempt to avoid stopping and thinking, and realising how pointless it all is, how alone we are.

A friend of mine (whose blog you should read, he writes interesting stuff) shared a link to this article about busyness a little while ago, which I think makes some good points. The main thrust of the argument is that people make themselves unnecessarily busy, and even get addicted to busyness, and consequently do not have time free to spend with friends, relax, or have the quiet and idleness necessary for much creativity. The author ends with saying “I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love.”. I shared it with some other friends on Facebook to see what they thought, and several commented that not having enough to do can also be an unpleasant situation.

So where is the middle ground? Or are these two problems really different faces of the same issue? I think at least part of the problem here comes back to community. At least in my case, the times when I find myself unhappy or unstimulated and not having enough to do (or more commonly, enough motivation to find things to do, or do the things there are to do) often come down to loneliness, not having people around with whom to have stimulating conversations, go and do things, or just hang out in a low-key manner. And so I try to keep myself booked up with things to do, places to go, so as to try to avoid having these empty gaps where I think too much. And so I am Busy. But why do I have this problem in the first place? Well, at least partly because everyone is too busy to just hang out. Too booked out weeks or months in advance with things to go to to have the spare time to spend a lazy afternoon not doing anything in particular, or an evening just cooking together, eating and chatting. And here I am becoming part of the problem. So I can hardly blame anyone else! But I do think I remember this being easier back in Wellington. Or is it just a case of the grass seeming greener on the other side of the fence?

So what is the solution? Is it just a matter of trying harder to organise informal social activities, and keeping myself open to spontaneity? But what do I do in the times when nothing eventuates? Maybe I need to get back into programming and electronics in my spare time, but I have lacked much motivation for quite some time.

While chatting with my friend Jordan in New York a few weeks ago, we noted that we are opposites in a number of ways. She has too many demands on her time from people she cares about and so cannot make time for all of them, while I often wish I had more. She is great at getting inspired about new projects and things to do, but often struggles then to follow through, whereas I tend to be pretty good at following through with things once I get into them (perhaps sometimes to the point of obsession), but frequently lack the initial inspiration; I instead struggle to work out what to do, or to decide between options (particularly when I do not have enough information as to what the consequences of the decision will be). I think the opposites of over-busyness versus not having enough to do (or motivation or people, as discussed above) come in here too.

On a vaguely related note, I have noticed recently that talking to and spending time with people seems to be something that gets easier, and I get better at, after doing it for a while. This seems to be mostly a short-term effect (much like with dancing actually; I find the same thing particularly for blues dancing). After spending just an hour or two talking with people — and I mean properly talking, have a good deep conversation with one or two others where we are all contributing and thinking — I seem to get better at expressing myself, putting my thoughts into words, asking the right questions, and just generally communicating better. But after a few days or perhaps a week I am back to my usual self. Perhaps if I had the opportunity to have this sort of conversation regularly the improvement would last longer term? I am not sure.

Well, after all that, does anyone want to hang out sometime, bake, go for a walk, eat, or just talk?

Oh, and should I move to Sydney? Is it any better there, and is it enough to justify the cost of starting from scratch again?



  1. Have you read Ecclesiastes lately?

    Comment by melmylvaganam — 22 July 2012 @ 2:29 pm

    • Nope. What does it have to say about moving to Sydney? Or more broadly, how would you apply it to me, or modern life in general?

      Comment by qwandor — 22 July 2012 @ 7:54 pm

      • Maybe you should have a read. A lot of what you’re saying is ringing true with it. And then I’m happy to talk about it more with you if you want.

        Comment by melmylvaganam — 24 July 2012 @ 7:29 pm

  2. If I was you I would stay for as long in Europe and do as much travelling as you can. When you are ready then do a PhD. Only come back down under when you are bored of Europe or want to do a PhD in that part of the world. I would actually recommend going and doing a PhD in the US. Work and jobs will always be there 🙂

    Comment by Craig — 30 July 2012 @ 6:15 pm

    • Man, I can’t believe I missed this post (and a few others of yours in particular). I wish we could have a long, drawn-out discussion in person! I’m in a very similar position. I’ve taken steps of late to solve it (finally, after years of rumination), but I think they really just beg greater questions. I’ll try to collect my thoughts on my neglected blog.

      In the mean time, I’m not sure I can advise you to move to Sydney yet. As a city goes, it has some nice parts. But it also has some not-nice parts. It’s ridiculously expensive (to the point of absurdity), and if it weren’t for work being here I probably wouldn’t’ve have stuck around. It is very close to New Zealand though, so offers an easy way of catching up with friends. That can be a double-edged sword, mind you. I recently emailed a another friend a summary of my experiences here.

      Justify the cost of starting from scratch all over again? No, no my strong opinion is that it will not – not unless you find something about the city particularly appealing (and what are you, crazy?)

      Comment by Arya Reais-Parsi (@aryareaisparsi) — 25 March 2013 @ 6:45 pm

      • Ah, amateur hour. That was in response to you Andrew, not Craig.

        In response to Craig, I say (projecting my inner anxieties) – stop hurrying the man to do a PhD. A labour of love takes time to develop. Sheesh.

        Comment by Arya Reais-Parsi (@aryareaisparsi) — 25 March 2013 @ 6:46 pm

      • Well I have a stopover in Sydney on Monday 6th May, if that works.

        This post was quite a while ago now and things have changed in some ways. I have developed friendships a bit more, and made a few new ones. One initiative I have taken this year which has worked out quite well so far has been to make a concerted effort to have people over for dinner regularly. I have found a couple of friends who also enjoy cooking, and I think since the start of the year have averaged about one night a week of either having people over for dinner or visiting another friend’s house for dinner. Some interesting conversations have ensued, among other things.

        And I decided against moving to Sydney. I am going to stay in London for a bit longer at least. Though still not sure beyond this year. I guess I will continue to see how things go.

        Comment by qwandor — 26 March 2013 @ 1:19 am

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