Carpe diem - and all that...

Post date: Oct 03, 2011 4:2:30 PM

Ok, it’s the start of term and instead of writing something heavily political and theoretical, let’s start things with a mild wake-up-call to get us thinking – and this time I’m not going to rant on about gender, at least it’s not my intention. And, I'm not going to talk about sports either for a change...

I'm indulging in my fair share of popular culture as you may have noticed - TV, books, cinema - we have to be informed, right? So, I've been reading 'One Day' by David Nicholls which I didn't find particularly breathtaking, but never mind. I’ve also been following the popular TV programme ‘Downton Abbey’... and this is probably where I’m losing the respect of some of my consumer research colleagues. Not to worry, I can handle it – I can always argue that it’s for ‘research purposes’.

Although both of these stories then – ‘Downton’ and ‘One Day’ – seem to have little in common, they got me thinking about time: how we allocate time, prioritise, waste, procrastinate (as I’m doing right now), schedule, structure, etc. You have to understand this within the context of me joining an evening education institution, and I’m delighted to say I already had the pleasure of meeting our new cohort of bright and keen students. I’m absolutely serious when I say that I have utmost admiration for all of them acting on a belief that the day is not enough, and that they still have enough energy left in the evening to add something to their life when some of us think the work is done. Who can say that they still learn about something previously unknown after a full day’s work? Brilliant I say!

Going back to my two examples, life in early 20th century Downton used to be very structured: everyone knew when and how to be present for breakfast, lunch, cocktails, tea, etc. In other words, your day was ordered according to social expectations of rank and class. Now, this also meant dressing and ‘consuming’ according to these daily schedules. Both upstairs and downstairs, everyone had their prescribed appearances and there was little they could do about it. There was a correct time and place for everything. As Julian Fellowes so beautifully shows us however, amongst all the badness of the two world wars, an indirect result was also the erosion of class systems... at least in some parts of the world. Never mind though, we didn’t want to get political again. Therefore, as we move towards modernity and post-modernity, things become terribly unstructured – and when I indicated that this was a good thing, maybe it wasn't? Again, never mind. Clear is that today we don’t have exact times for breakfast, in fact we have the possibility to have ‘all day breakfasts’. We can pretty much choose what to wear for specific occasions, and when it comes to cocktails ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere’, isn’t it? As Giddens would say, the modern self has an increase in choice, but also an increase in existential anxiety. We can do anything at any time – but wouldn't it be easier to know our role in life, to be much more conscious of our limits as to what we can and can't do? Now we wonder whether something is ‘right’ and we may even be looking for someone who can tell us what is ‘right’. When the answer is: nobody. We can live into the days without one day being the same as the one before. Now, for some that is a welcome change, others are happier with the safety of a routine.

This is where I’m getting to ‘One Day’. As much as I thought David Nicholls was just a little too eager to make me cry when the poor woman in the end... I won’t say what happens to her... anyway, he says his novel is about love and regret; about a guy who is boozing his life away, having the girl he loves and loves him back in front of him all this time without realising it until it’s too late. Anybody else thought of ‘Love Story’? No? Never mind. This girl on the other hand is just so idealistic and wants to be all ‘goody two shoes’ and in the end makes a wad of cash on some books - but never mind that either. She’s always on about ‘seizing the day’, carpe diem - which she doesn't do either of course. I’d say, seize the day by reading the last three chapters and think of the preceding approx.300 pages as mundane, describing the mediocrity of day-to-day living. But this is what got me thinking. David Nicholls is making us out to be a bunch of wasters, when he seems to be addressing Giddens modernity-related increase in choice – we can end up chasing something for the thrill of the experience when what we want can be in front of us. Happiness can be so simple. However, what he doesn’t write about is the possibility of us not being miserable with mediocrity, but actually happy to find out about what we like, embracing choice, looking at life from different sides if we are self-critical enough. We can recognise that in day-to-day life we can experience special things, meet special people, we only have to choose to see it as such.

What I’m saying is that we have a choice to live every day as though it’s our last – but then who can do that. Rather, should we not see the special in the small accomplishments of everyday life? Let’s not cramp it all in ‘One Day’, but we can get there little by little. Yes, of course, recognise the wonder of life each day, bladibla, and, in my personal opinion, isn’t it great to have choice? Of course, let’s make the most of it. But, it’s ok to make the most of little too, it doesn’t always have to come with a big bang. Whether you get through the day with a ‘Downton’ scheduled routine or a ‘One Day’ crescendo after chasing a bunch of nothingness (which it doesn't have to be), it’s up to you find out. Just as long as you do exactly that! We are still limited enough in our choices. Marketing, society, structures, expectations, obligations - they can all limit us enough. As long as we recognise that what we do during our 24hrs makes us and those around us happy, that's what matters. If that's not the case, change! You have the choice! LIVE!

In that spirit, let’s follow the fantastic example of our students who can make their studies happen alongside everything else in their life, and who will have to make the most of every spare minute between work, grocery shopping and changing nappies, etc. Maybe you will also find some reflection time and theoretical implications in popular culture, as per my poor examples of ‘Downton’ and ‘One Day’. Never mind, whatever you do, without being patronising, and in your own unique way, CARPE DIEM!