In high school, I had to read Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery as part of my French curriculum. At the time, it seemed like nothing more than somewhat boring science fiction – a prince from another planet who meets a pilot stranded in the desert and they do nothing but talk nonsense…in French! Understandably, there was a record dropout rate for that particular class.
Then recently, a book club that I attend selected this story as a discussion topic. After much groaning and procrastinating, I finally gave in and read it again.
And it was beautiful.
The Little Prince for what it is – a deeply philosophical fable, filled with humour and wisdom and such sweetness that it leaves you surprised and moved. The book established de Saint Exupery as one of France’s foremost authors and more than a half century later is still considered a brilliant allegory of faith and love and innocence lost and found.
Yet this is a children’s story. Maybe the author was making a point. Some things in life are so complex and so profound that only children and animals can understand them.
I spend a lot of time staring off into space. Sometimes I drive for hours in the countryside north of my house, just watching the trees and fields glide by. A favourite weekend activity is ‘sitting’.
In other words, I like doing nothing.
Well, not really nothing. In those moments of stillness, my body is, as poet and activist Bif Naked puts it, ‘unclenching’. My thoughts float into a more creative zone where new ideas and creative solutions to problems reside. Sometimes even my soul comes out of its shell, and we have a talk over a cup of tea.
In the 1990’s, Seinfeld – a show about nothing – became one of the most ground breaking comedies in television history. Turns out, they were on to something. A number of studies have shown that energy is restored to our brain cells while we sleep. Play is so vital to children’s social, physical and cognitive development that it is recognized by the United Nations as a right for every child.
Doing nothing may not be a popular concept in North American society, where busyness is seen as a status symbol, but it has its fans. God took a break from creating the world and rested on the seventh day. Dogs have got it down to a fine art. And A.A. Milne advocated it decades ago in his own inimitable way:
Christopher Robin: What I like most of all is just doing nothing.
Winnie the Pooh: How do you do just nothing?
Christopher Robin: Well, when grown-ups ask, ‘What are you going to do?’ and you say, ‘Nothing,’ and then you go and do it.
Winnie the Pooh: I like that. Let’s do it all the time.
Technology is getting on my nerves today. Computers, cell phones, tablets, cameras, everything. It’s rather like a car, or the human body. When it functions well, it can be a powerful and useful tool. But when it doesn’t, it’s a source of frustration and stress.
At heart, I’m a Luddite (a term taken from 19th century textile workers who staged an uprising when modern machinery threatened to take away their jobs). Yes, I see the paradox of writing an anti-tech BLOG, yet in a way it’s reflective of what those workers experienced.
I write first drafts in long-hand,love finding personal letters and cards in my postbox, loathe the erosion of privacy through spyware and minicams, and believe that social media is making us LESS social because it replaces actual human interaction with a Brave New World form of virtual relationships.
In the end though, I have to accept and use technology. Adam and Eve (or perhaps Steve Jobs) have taken a bite of the apple and the old world doesn’t exist any more.
The industrial revolution steamrolled over the Luddites and altered the fundamental structure of their society. The tech revolution is doing the same to ours. Will it be good or bad in the long run? We’ll see.