Our culture is obsessed with busyness. In a world of technological advances that promise greater efficiency, we seem to be busier than ever before. It's partly a cultural phenomenon — the wealthy tend to work more hours than those who are less well off, and thus, busyness becomes a status symbol.
But it hasn't always been this way, and for a long time, the opposite was true. Cultural commentator Walter Benjamin reports that around 1840, it was briefly fashionable to walk a turtle around the Parisian arcades on a leash. City streets were becoming enjoyable public spaces to hang out in, and having leisure time was a status symbol. What better way to show that off than have a turtle set your pace as you enjoyed the city?
(And it wasn't just turtles. The poet Gérard de Nerval was so fond of lobsters, he stole one from a fisherman's net, named it Thibault, and walked it through the streets using a blue ribbon as a leash.)
When the pandemic upended the world last year, it also reset our relationship with work and accelerated the transition to remote and flexible arrangements. We got to step outside of the busyness trap for a moment and reassess our priorities. For many, being "on" all the time became less desirable.
Walking turtles around may never come into vogue again. But as the world slowly resumes, we have a unique opportunity to choose our pace.