My Sunday was dedicated to doing precisely nothing. After my morning coffee was consumed on a park bench by the beach – an act that occurs most Sunday mornings – I went to breakfast with a friend. I would be home by 10:30am. Ten-thirty arrived and so did I. I was home. The sun was out and glorious. So I went for a run. I’m glad I went for that run because, as I write this, the weather is not glorious and hasn’t been since that Sunday run. The wind kicked in and hasn’t wavered since. But my partner and I braved it to do the grocery shopping. After unpacking the groceries and repacking them into the fridge, I lay on the couch for 10 minutes but the dishes needed to be done so I got up and did those. Then I cleaned a little more. At 4pm, I stopped and started reading Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, the debut book of New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino. I stumbled upon an essay called ‘Always Be Optimizing’ and was faced with the reality that in a failed attempt to do nothing, I had, in fact, spent my entire day optimising.
Doing nothing is hard, not only because our attention spans have become collateral damage in our increased dependency on the internet, but because our lives are now so fast and full and measurable, they require optimisation to get through. We need to spend every bit of our time efficiently. It’s no longer a question of what do I feel like doing right now? But what is the most efficient thing to do right now? As Tolentino writes: “Today, the principle of optimization – the process of making something, as the dictionary puts it, ‘as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible’ – thrives in extremity. An entire industry has even sprung up to give optimization a uniform: athleisure, the type of clothing you wear when you are either acting on or signalling your desire to have an optimized life.” As I spent my day of nothing tending to my health and my home in my armour of activewear, I became the walking poster child of optimisation, and it left me pondering the value of not just doing nothing. But the value of doing something entirely pointless. The pointless act of play.
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