May 06 2008

Surplus time, work, diabetes, and the “connected futures” workshop

One of the issues around participation in communities of practice is “having enough time.” We challenge people to declare that they have enough time before participating in a CPsquare workshop. But people have always experienced a lot of desire and some disappointment during the Foundations workshop. It seems like there is always more to be said, another angle to consider. It turns out that the Connected Futures workshop is the same in that regard. Nobody has as much time as they’d like.

It’s amusing to hear Clay Shirky’s response to a TV producer who asks, “Where do people find the time?” Bottom line: people have less and less time for screens that don’t have a mouse attached, where you can’t do something that’s meaningful. We are actually confronted by a surplus of time if we look at it from the right point of view.

Although in fact doing one of these CPsquare workshops (whether as a leader or a participant) involves sitting in front of a computer for many hours, in some ways its a lot of exercise. They’re designed so that you have to do a lot of stuff: you can’t just sit there. Although people going through the experience do so as individuals, it’s usually on behalf of an organization or a cause or some kind of intention that’s beyond themselves as individuals. Diabetes could be a useful metaphor to think about the consequences of spending time in a different way. This article in the April 24th 2008 issue of The Economist (“How to spend it; A region awash with oil money has one or two clouds on the horizon“), talks about how sedentary the population as a whole has become in some
middle-east countries, leading to very high rates of diabetes. But it caught
my imagination as a way to step back and think about how we spend time on a larger scale:

Diabetes is a useful metaphor for the Gulf’s present problems. The region’s economies are struggling to absorb petrodollars, accumulating like glucose in the bloodstream. The risk they face is the economic equivalent of renal failure: inflation, a hollowing-out of the non-oil sector, and a young, growing workforce in chronic need of outside labour to supplement it.

The analogy is that learning passively is like consuming too much candy, year in and year out. It gets you high, but it can have long-term, quite negative consequences. I guess it could be that with the intellectual equivalent of renal failure you get lazy about chopping wood, don’t know when you need to learn and you might be kidding yourself when you think you know. Or something.

Now if we could just get CPsquare workshops to involve heart-pounding, aerobic exercise, too!

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