Take Time To Be Human
It’s interesting which products are selling fastest. Of particular note are flour and seeds. Both are products that need time and patience to use. We’ll ignore crisps, alcohol and toilet roll for now. Although if the lockdown lasts a lot longer maybe we’ll see a rise in homemade hooch.
Is it because many of us suddenly find ourselves with more time on our hands? Maybe we always wanted to spend more time gardening or baking, but we didn’t have the opportunity. Across the population it seems it’s all or nothing. Either you are an essential worker, throwing yourself in to the massively important tasks that enable us all to get through this. Or suddenly finding yourself with more time on your hands.
I think Boris Johnson comes into both categories. If you haven’t seen the astonishing article in The Times, our Prime Minister skipped five consecutive Cobra meetings on the crisis. He went on holiday instead. Calls to order protective gear were ignored. Scientists’ warnings fell on deaf ears. At 5,000 words it’s too long to comment on here, but it’s buzzing around on social media. Check it out. The catalogue of failures is mind boggling.
For those who aren’t leading a country of 67 million people, I say make the time count. And it looks like people are. Baking with the kids. Growing veg for the first time. Or finally having time to practice a musical instrument. And do it as often as you know you should if you ever want to play something more complex than Smoke on the Water. (My 12 year old son now does a great James Bond theme on his guitar!)
A benefit that time gives us is changing the way we shop. Being able to walk to your local greengrocer, butcher or general store (where they’ve been able to stay open). You might have watched the recent show on the BBC called Back in Time for the Corner Shop. It showed how corner shops have changed over the last 100 years. From being the centre of the community, with the shop keeper weighing out all the produce, to self-service and the impact of the supermarkets. The last episode showed modern local shops with a happy medium between speed and friendly personal service.
The satisfaction of making something with your own hands is part of the human condition. This is not a new idea. Thinkers from Karl Marx to the Dali Lama have spoken of mindfulness and the alienation of labour. The idea that humans take pleasure in creating and achieving. As Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
In the Star Trek film Insurrection (bear with me here) the Enterprise crew find themselves on a planet which appears to be lacking technology. The colony’s leader explains, “We have chosen not to employ [our technology] in our daily lives. We believe that when you create a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man.” In an otherwise unremarkable film, this stands out as prophetic. How the world will bounce back from this crisis gives us a choice. A thug can use a knife to wound. A surgeon can use a knife to heal. Likewise, automation can put people out of work and into a precarious future. Or it can provide the time for us to develop our innate human creativity. I think we’re approaching a Beveridge moment. We need a public debate on Universal Basic Income.
We need a balance between humans and technology. Technology is essential for prosperity and sustainability – from broadband to vaccines. The burden we’re placing on our planet’s resources requires a less materialistic way of life. Our relationships, physical and mental wellbeing must be valued more than consumption. Our work-life balance needs recalibrating. All of us deserve the time to take a walk, use our hands, and make time for the things that make us human.
First printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 20.4.20