Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Ignorance, Bliss, and Electrical Tape

I recently went back home for my friend's wedding, and since my wife and son couldn't come with I had to make the trip with only my trusty iPod and Garmin GPS as travel companions. I have made this drive before, and while it's not nearly as enjoyable without the human company, it's not really that bad as long as I can keep my mind occupied. And the best way to do that, in my experience, is to fill my iPod not with music but with podcasts. Specifically This Week in Tech, Mac Break Weekly, Radiolab, Left Right and Center, the Game Informer Podcast, and Focus on the Family's PluggedIn Podcast.  Listening to music, especially songs with which I am already familiar, causes my brain to go numb after a few hours in the car. But listening to people talking, particularly if they are discussing ideas and news, keeps me interested and engaged.  And so I set out on Interstate 35 with enough talking heads (not to mention a bag of salt and vinegar chips, and another bag of Jelly Bellys) to keep me awake for days. But I also had an ace up my sleeve: a modification I made to my car before leaving that, more than anything else I did to prepare for the trip, made all the difference between enjoying the drive and haggardly wondering how much longer until I get there...

It's kind of hard to see in this picture...

Ok, let's try this one instead. (click to view full-size.)
In case the pictures don't make it clear, I took a piece of electrical tape and covered up the clock in my car.

What this did was remove any possibility of me being able to check what time it was.  I knew that I left town around 5pm, but after that everything melded into one continuous journey with no timestamps by which I could gauge my progress.  Normally on a drive like this one the clock is constantly visible right there on the dashboard of my car, telling me what time it is and providing a continual stream of information to my brain about how much longer it is going to be until I reach my destination. Any feelings of ambiguity are tossed aside so that I might be constantly made aware of how long I have been on the road and how much is left to go.  If I cross a state border or go through a town, a quick glance at the clock tells me whether I am making good time or falling behind.

But the thing I realized is that it doesn't matter if I'm making good time or falling behind. As Vash the Stampede would say, "Whatever happens, happens." I'll get to my destination when I get there, and in the meantime covering up the clock in my car helped me sit back and enjoy the ride.

So how did it go?


I took the same route back home as always, but had no idea if I was arriving at the usual landmarks when I normally would. I pulled up to the same Conoco gas station as always, but had no idea what time it was so I didn't worry about whether or not I could take my time.  So instead I just sort of took it easy, and when I was ready to go I hopped back in the car and continued on.  Later I had to use the bathroom, and normally I would question whether a stop would be worth it, given the precious minutes it would add to the drive. But since I had no concept of how long I had been driving, or how long I had left, it didn't really matter.  Twice I pulled over just to take some photos, and once I stopped just to get out, walk around, and stretch for a while.  Not having a sense of time made it impossible for me to gauge my progress, and instead I just got to enjoy the ride. Basically, it allows me to drive with the Spike Spiegel philosophy of "Whatever happens, happens."

I have since left the tape over the clock on my car, and though driving to work isn't the same as driving across three states, it has made a measurable impact on my state of mind while I make the 2.5-mile commute in the afternoon.  I leave when I leave, and arrive when I arrive. And in the meantime there is no clock to tell me if I'm going to be late or not.  In essence, that decision has already been made the instant I set foot into the garage, and by then it's too late to change anything. And if I do happen to be running late, the clock is not taunting me or daring me to run red lights and blow through stop signs.  Thomas Gray proposed the idea that ignorance is bliss, and while I can't say I entirely agree with him, I do know that getting rid of the clock in my has entirely removed one source of potential worry and stress in my life. And it sure is nice.


Julie said...

We really are controlled by clocks aren't we? Good for you not letting the time control your time on the road. What a great idea!

Simon Ringsmuth said...

Bingo! You got it, Julie. I quit taking my phone with me when we go for walks in the evening too. Who cares what time it is? I just want to enjoy the conversation and the scenery :)

Jessica said...

I am terrible about watching the clock and stressing on my way to work! I think it is a great idea for road trips. When we went to visit my parents in April we took our time driving instead of trying to make great time. It made all the difference! We stuck to the boys' schedule and didn't worry too much about how long it took us. We took nice long lunch breaks and the boys hardly fussed at all.

Simon Ringsmuth said...

Way to go, Jessica! I used to be the same way on trips--gotta go fast to make good time! But now I try to take an attitude like yours and just enjoy the trip. You'll get there when you get there, and probably enjoy things a lot more along the way.