Work is only a very limited part of our life. In the 19th century, we worked 4000 hours a year, today it is around 1400 to 1600 hours a year and life expectancy has increased. Part of our free life (without work) is done later. In France, in the 1980s, the average lifespan in retirement was 12 years, today it is between 22 and 26 years. In the old days, life was work with a little leisure. Today it is the opposite. It’s leisure, and a bit of work (school isn’t part of work, it’s studious leisure).
The studious leisure, which comes from ancient Greece, makes it possible to learn, to improve one’s mind and body, it is very broad, it is to practice a sport, it is reading, to play an instrument of music, meditation. “Skhole” means school and it is part of studious leisure. Then there is leisure for others, it is social time, time spent with family and friends. And finally, the popular leisure that is entertainment, the passive leisure that does not allow progress, but which occupies the majority of our free time. Ideally, the three forms of free time should be divided into three thirds, but it is entertainment that completely absorbs it.
The first thing I tell my students is that they will all have the same degree, but they will be judged on how they use their free time. Will they have formed an association or done voluntary work, sports or music, or even learned a language? That’s what makes the difference. To succeed in the 21st century, we must have the widest possible culture to connect knowledge. The level of cognitive demands of the world is constantly increasing and it is increasingly difficult to understand the world and to be an active player with added value. And this is where social inequalities grow, because the free time of a large part of the population is absorbed by entertainment, by time spent in front of screens, television, social networks. The lower you go down the social ladder, the more you stare at screens. Among children, the screen time of the most disadvantaged is twice as high as among the most advantaged.
Technology drains our brains, we have less memory when we use our cell phone, less attention span. Technology atrophies us, but at the same time it makes the world more complicated and demanding. We are caught between the two. Today, life is easy, with limited work time. We offer ourselves more comfort, more pleasure, but we were not prepared for this. We are asked to use this freedom with some form of discipline, but it takes self-discipline.
It is very important to be bored. Boredom is fruitful. There are plenty of geniuses who might not create their work today because they would have been distracted. Did Marcel Proust write In Search of Lost Time? And Victor Hugo all his works? And Leonardo da Vinci painted all his paintings? It’s not for lack of talent, but because of the time we waste in front of our screens! You have to be very motivated today to put aside all the seductions offered by screens and digital networks. It takes iron discipline to be able to isolate yourself and create a work.
When I was little, on weekends or on vacation, we spent hours in the car and there was nothing to do but look at the landscape, and do nothing. When you’re on the subway or the bus, it’s easy to look at your phone, but you have to force yourself to do nothing, to daydream, let your mind wander and, who knows, it might be fruitful. You have to manage to be silent within yourself. We live in a world where there is always noise or something that piques our interest. You have to learn to be bored and to fertilize boredom.