Sunday, November 11, 2007
Useful Anti-Tech advice from a Comic Book Hero
I knew somebody would do it, and it had to be a good-looking heterosexual young guy with a Princeton education.
Once again, I've been procrastinating by (not only writing this blog) but entering the Parallel Universe of the New York Times Style Section. This may be my downfall, but it's also my great amusement. Today, the lead story was about Timothy Ferriss, 30, who has been resonating with techies everywhere with his book The 4- Hour Workweek. As the article by Alex Williams notes, the Ferriss grabber is his insistence that in a tenth of the usual week, (a twentieth of the workweek for normal workaholics) you can rake in big bucks as an entrepreneur and use the rest of your time to--as he does--jaunt around the world pursuing exotic experiences and achievements like competitive Chinese kickboxing, world-championship cage fighting, and hurling in Ireland.
How does the magical Mister Ferriss accomplish all this? By going low-tech. Nix instant-messaging, outsource email, forget texting, dump news-collecting and eschew your digital photos and iPod. Shut down your Flickr, Twitter, You Tube and Facebook accounts. Delegate everything except, well, going to the bathroom.
As I was reading the article, which does read a bit like a superhero comic book, I truly questioned whether this was for real. Those old enough to remember the TV show "The Monkees" know it's possible to set up an irresistible success scenario, and then go recruit somebody to fill the roles. Timothy Ferriss is the kind of near-caricature who conquers the oppressors to live free and save the world. Heaven knows, everyone with a Blackberry understands its compulsion, and while unable to completely buck the machines cold-turkey, secretly longs for the days when "reachable" meant having an answering machine on your (corded) telephone. Well, maybe not. Most tech addicts weren't born then.
I finally conceded that this guy could be real when I (I'll admit it) watched a video on his website of his performance in the international tango competition in Buenos Aires. This could have been faked. But there was this blond guy, serious-faced as any tango master must be, swooping his leg in fashionable semi-circles on a dance floor populated with other somber-lipped couples with numbers pinned on their backs. The allure isn't the tango, exactly, but the idea of the tango; the notion that you can grab life's worthwhile and exciting offerings just for the reaching. Break free of your shackles and chains! Now jump on a jet and cavort at Carnival in Rio! Track wilderbeasts in Kenya! Go to Pamploma and cheer the running of the bulls!
Perhaps Mr. Ferriss presents us the running of the bull. One can only escape responsibility if one has few conventional ties--like a spouse with a place-bound job, children who go to school, a religious community with needs, or elderly parents to care for. These very well might be more significant and fulfilling pursuits than the accomplishments Mr. Ferriss enjoys as a "professional polymath." And most people have less spectacular success in their money-earning; Mr. Ferriss claims his vitamin supplement business now runs via the self-sufficiency of underlings, and "kicks off a high five-figure personal income every month," freeing him to gallavant to Scotland, Sardinia, Vienna and Bratislava (over the past two months alone).
Still, there's a useful lesson here: You don't need all the gadgets and gizmos. You don't need to be available (except to the kids and elderly parents) 24/7. If you want to communicate, you can pick up the telephone. If you want to jet to Rio, then schedule it. Every day is a possibility, and on the day Timothy Ferris taped a pilot for an adventure TV show in Japan, you probably sat at home reading the Sunday Style section. And as for me, better to be writing my book than reading about some guy whose greatest pride, evidently, is what he can do...for himself.