Space The Final Frontier

Nicholas Carr writes about the intersection of science, technology and culture. I was first exposed to his thinking as part of an MBA assignment Is Google making up Stupid? That article, which I encourage you to read, gave way to the longer discussion (The Shallows) of the dynamic where we create tools and are subsequently reshaped by them. For Carr, the tools were media; paper, radio, television, the Internet and the shaping was our way of thinking. He recounts the historical development of books and the disruption of the oral traditions of knowledge and wisdom.

“Even as the technology of the book sped ahead, the legacy of the oral world continued to shape the way words on pages were written and read. Silent reading was largely unknown in the ancient world. The new codices, like the tablets and scrolls that preceded them were usually read aloud… It’s hard to image today, but no spaces separated the words in early writing…words ran together without any break across every line on every page, in what is now referred to as scriptura continua. When we talk, we don’t insert pauses between each word-long stretches of syllables flow unbroken from our lips. It would never have cross the minds of the first writers to put blank spaces into words. They were simply transcribing speech, writing what their ears told them to write.”

Scriptura continua

Scriptura continua


“The placing of spaces between words alleviated the cognitive strain involving in deciphering text, making it possible for people to read quickly, silently and with greater comprehension. …. As the brain becomes more adept at decoding text, turning what had been a demanding problem-solving exercise into a process that is essentially automatic, it can dedicate more resources to the interpretation of meaning.”

The question I wish to pose is whether space serves the same function in our daily activity. How much of our day are endless series of unbroken activity? From meeting to meeting, from errand to errand, task to task? Our days are run-on sentences. Perhaps the reason are “days are so long and our weeks so short” is that we have not put space into our run-on activity?

It is a given that we have stressful lives, especially work lives and I wonder whether space is not a part of that stress. That question led me to an interview with John O’Donohue, an Irish poet and philosopher.

“… stress is a perverted relationship to time. So that rather than being a subject of your own time, you have become a target and victim and time has become a routine. So at the end of the day, you probably haven’t had a true moment for yourself.”

Beginning to sound familiar? Perhaps putting a little space between activities will reduce our cognitive stress and begin to repair our relationship with time. However, we must make a “selfish” commitment to ourselves to activity seek the space. We must cross a threshold to act on our behalf. I chose threshold because it describes a hurdle in our decision-making because of the resonance O’Donohue brings to the concept.

“…I think a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and I think that very often how we cross is the key thing. … if we cross worthily, what we do is heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to a new ground where we just don’t repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were.”

Requiring and making space and we know from the history of books that it can be a very small space, can alter our days profoundly. It is not a zero sum game. Paradoxically making space between activities does not diminish “activity”; it expands depth without sacrificing breadth.

"…when is the last time you had a great conversation, a conversation that wasn’t just two intersecting monologues, which is what passes for conversation a lot in this culture. … when had you last a great conversation, in which you overhead yourself saying things that you never knew you knew? That you heard yourself receiving from somebody words that absolutely found places within you that you thought you had lost and sense of an event of a conversion that brought the two of you on to a different plane. … a conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards. … they are food and drink for the soul.”

So here is the challenge. Let us begin to make space today; you defeat the concept in making space tomorrow. Create the space for conversation with others and more importantly, with yourself. I’mbettingthatthesmallactofmakingspace will reduce your stress and deepen your life, at work and at home.