We're all too aware of the concept of 'carpe diem.' From Andrew Marvell's cheeky poem, To His Coy Mistress, written in 1681, to 'YOLO' by Kendrick Lamar, released this year, we've never been oblivious to the passing of time. While the digital age might make us think 'now' is a more urgent phenomenon, people have been stressing about it since the dawn of man.
Here's what we're not aware of -- the digital age hasn't squeezed 'now' into smaller moments. It's turned 'now' into our eternal reality. As Douglas Rushkoff puts it in an interview with Fast.CoExist about his book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens NOW:
"The cultural bias and economic bias metaphor is shifting from hard drive to RAM, from potential energy to kinetic energy... we need not worry about the future at all, because we are living in a present that will continue forever."
If we think of the future in this way, we start to realize we're not stretching towards some climactic conclusion, but collectively making decisions, choices, mistakes and memories together in real time, and will continue to do so for eternity. I love thinking about time as an element... there was a quote in a novel I read in high school that sparked a long interest in how we create Time artificially by developing context for the 'passing of time.' Can't remember the book, but it was about a tribe in Africa, where their leader claimed that in their remote, self-sufficient society, "we create our own time." And it's true!
I love this quote from Alicia Eggert, a TED Fellow and multi-media artist who focused on time, found art, and words in her work:
When I was a kid, I lived in South Africa for a few years because my parents were missionaries there during apartheid. South Africans had three different ways they used the word “now.” A simple “now” was a really casual reference to the present; it lacked any sense of urgency. “Just now” was even more casual. It’s like, “Oh, I’ll get around to it.” And then “now now” was a more urgent expression, meaning “This is happening right at this very moment.”
As she says, we don't have enough words to describe the concept of 'now.' Rushkoff mentions the difference between the Greek terms chronos and kairos in his interview -- the difference is time and timing. "We’ve been living in chronos for the past thousand or so years," says Rushkoff. "Time was what’s on the clock. And now that our digital devices can take that for us, we can move into kairos."
Put simply, the time that a 'moment' occurs no longer matters. What matters is the 'timing' of that moment in the context of what happened before, during and after it. And this isn't just philosophical -- these changes have huge impact on political events, product design, our understanding of the human body, workplaces, the global economy.
So Living In The Now isn't so much about Living While You Can. It's not about living in the Future, it's not about not living in the Past. It's about avoiding that feeling of falling behind on all the information, all the incoming messages, the constant flow of alerts and updates. It's about realizing that we create the present that the digital world records for us. It's about living with the knowledge that we're not trying to catch up to it -- it's trying to catch up to us.
In Rushkoff's words, "I’m a Presentist."