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Issue 241
March/April 2007
Urban Ecology

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Article

LIFE WITHOUT {i}e{/i}-POCKETS
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Cover: Clinical Centre Westend, Germany Photograph: M.Haddenhorst/Still Pictures

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LIFE WITHOUT e-POCKETS

Computers make it easy to find stuff however it’s organised; that means i never really organise and simplify my stuff.

In ‘Life Without Pockets’ (Issue 231), I shared my experience of reducing the amount of stuff in my life by eliminating the space for the stuff. Whatever space we have (shelves, drawers, cupboards, rooms, garages, car boots…) somehow gets filled up with stuff. It’s an immense and losing struggle to have the space but not to fill it. A much easier solution is to eliminate the space, the pocket. By reducing the amount of stuff around me i discovered a way to greater peace of mind and increased my time and energy to pursue more meaningful activities.

In this article i share my ongoing struggles in dealing with a new set of pockets most of us now have. These pockets are invisible, almost infinite, and constantly tempt us to keep trying to fill them up.

I am referring to our electronic pockets, which range from our computers to our bank accounts.

Computers have changed drastically in the past few years and my computer pockets have increased so much that adjectives are not enough! My email mailbox is gigabytes in size. I can store thousands of songs and photos. My computer is six years old, so i cannot store videos, but my next one will allow me to store dozens of movies, whether i want to or not. You may think, “What’s the problem?”

While i admit that i have benefited greatly from many of the technology breakthroughs, i have noticed that this vast increase in techie luxury has affected me negatively in certain ways. A combination of a fast-paced society with technology that encourages accumulation and waste is making me sloppy and lazy, not only on the computer but also in my life.

The first negative impact concerns my organisational powers. Computers make it easy to find stuff however it’s organised; that means i never really organise and simplify my stuff. Since i don’t find time to delete and organise my files, i have several versions of them. Tons of photos i have not seen, much less shared. Songs i never will listen to and some that i have never heard. I have so many backup CDs that i cannot find all of them. This lack of organisation is spilling out of my computer into my life.

The second effect is that, by acquiring data more than my memory can absorb, i use my brain less and my memory appears to be fading. While i can remember phone numbers from my college days, i never seem to be able to remember any new phone numbers or dates any more – i am truly dependent on my electronic assistant (or has it become my boss?).

The third change is my attitude in desiring stuff. When i hear a new song, i don’t try to enjoy it: my first thought is how i can get a copy. I do tend to accumulate stuff without reflecting on my needs, on where it’s going to be stored, or about what i plan to do with it. These small devices end up honing my acquisitory instincts.

The fourth area of concern is the increased workload, some of it created by me. While technology has enabled me to accomplish more, it has allowed the things i am supposed to do to grow even more. Instead of spending time enjoying what i am doing, i worry about the rising wave of responsibilities that technology brings. Email, newsletters and bookmarks accumulate, awaiting the proverbial rainy day when i have time and motivation to go back through old information. I notice that i don’t focus on the present, but keep creating tasks for the future.

In an attempt to deal with this problem, i have deleted most of my music collection from my computer and try to delete a song before getting a new one. I work on my memory by forcing myself to memorise some phone numbers. I try to read articles without keeping a copy or bookmarking them for the future. Finally, i try to avoid using the computer or at least the internet one day a week.

The other set of e-pockets i struggle with is those that have become very dear to many of us: financial accounts. Today it is so easy to create accounts: for cash, for savings, for stocks, for tax benefits, for education, for retirement. And there is no limit on how much we can put into them (or generous limits for taking out if they they are credit or debt instruments).

We are pressured to spend our lives filling them up. We want to accumulate this wealth because it is a source of power – wealthier people, in general, have more say and control. We want wealth because it is a source of security, a way to deal with whatever the future holds for us – be it ill-health or lack of family support or water shortages or a tsunami. We want wealth because we want to help our children. They will not need to struggle with tuition fees or car loans if we can fund their lives until they are settled.

There are a couple of problems i have with this. The first problem is that there is no goal i can set with which i will be content or which is achievable. To show that i really care for my kids i am supposed to save for their education, but the projection for college tuition is greater than my savings. The predictions for health costs are also grim. If i really want to remain healthy and not be a burden i need an extremely well-stocked bank account. These estimates are constantly growing and the only forecast i can see is that of inadequacy.

The second problem with my e-pockets is how much time and attention they take. Financial investments create problems with both success and failure. If we lose money on an investment, we encounter sorrow and stress and then commit to doing better next time. If we are successful then we have to figure out how to reinvest the gains and diversify. We may go from stocks to gold to real-estate in a far-off country. Again this takes time and energy and adds to all the worldly burdens we face. However small my e-pockets may be, i can easily spend all my time and energy managing them.

It is called the rat race but i don’t see any rats in a race like this – no finish line, and constantly having to run faster. I really struggle with this race and want out. It’s hard involving major changes in my thinking. To believe that my kids will be OK without a million from me. To assume that health costs cannot continue to rise as they have been rising. To be convinced that it’s more important for my health to watch my food and weight, exercise, meditate, and reduce my stress than to save money for healthcare. To accept that real security is in a network of people. To go forward with the conviction that when troubles come, i will surmount them and the struggle will make me a better person.

My family has struggled with e-pockets in the past few years. In periods of unemployment or under-employment we were without economic security such as a steady income, health benefits, or life insurance. We learned to not worry about them in not-so-good times and not to gloss over them in good times. We simplified and consolidated our bank accounts and most importantly set reasonable limits on how much we want in them. This helped us shift some of our focus from the future into the present, from stuffing to living, from accumulating to connecting.

Most of the world’s philosophies point to our attachment to material goods being a impediment to a better life. Our e-pockets have ‘materialised’ – rising to the top of the material world in value – and our time and energy are sucked into acquiring, filling, managing, securing, discussing and just watching them. A way to move away from materialism is to reduce and limit our electronic pockets. This practice will increase our free time to enjoy life and pursue our intellectual, social, artistic and spiritual quests.

Rajesh Shah lives in Oakland, California. He may capitalise his ‘i’ after the ‘y’ in ‘you’ is capitalised.

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