Media & The Cult of Busy

Beware the barrenness of a busy life – Socrates.

Scanning, liking, pinning, refreshing, flipping channels; they can fill up an evening without us even noticing. The average Canadian adult spends over nine hours in front of a screen each day, and that time has been consistently creeping upwards since 2010. What is most interesting to me is that an average of 2.5 hours per day are spent on mobile devices (excluding phone use).

We are certainly using these devices during productive times – but what I see in this number, is that we are a stuck in a “busy” culture where the only refuge – where we owe nothing to anyone – is in private pockets of time on our mobile devices.


Our highly productive, time-scarce culture has driven us to the small screens in our hands for access to a quiet, non-demanding sanctuary.

Letting go of that small piece of sanity is not likely if we don’t deal with our misplaced admiration (and simultaneous loathing) for busy-ness.

Our current use of ‘busy’ in regular dialogues generally looks like this:

A sense of obligation instead of desire

Feeling helplessness instead of choice,

and overwhelm instead of the courage to say no.

Busy means we’ve lost perspective on why we do what we do.


Mindless media consumption is our socially acceptable way to say “no” to the external environment

– otherwise, when we do take the time to lift our gaze, to take a breath, to “not do”, we often feel bound to our commitments to others. When we feel obligated to do something, we can lose our personal incentive – the “Why”.

What would help us all is to step back and realize that no matter how mundane or overwhelming a goal/task/commitment is – we have chosen to take it on, because it fulfills something within us. We are really fulfilling our own prioritiesour values, our hopes, our goals, our potential, our creativity, our community. We are bound to no-one but ourselves.

Occasionally this description doesn’t sit right, as on certain days busy-ness seems out of our personal control as it is related to a loved one’s wellbeing, to another person’s goals, to financial consequences, to an authority figure’s choices – but ultimately we are the ones who choose whether that is importance to us. We are the ones who choose when and how to use our energy, skill and time for our own desired consequences.

To learn how to become mindful in media consumption is to figure out where personal choice lies in our daily lives. We won’t feel the urge to rely on TV, phones and computers for quiet time, if we can learn to manage our time, connections and commitments in a mindful way.


Freedom to include leisure into life comes with understanding WHY we fill our minds, schedules and statements with the phrase “I’m busy”:

What 'busy' means to us : I’m important.

What we think: The more I put on my plate, the more likely I will be recognized.

What we believe: Someone will recognize the work I do if I'm busy.

What 'busy' means to us: I’m valuable/I matter.

What we think: The time I give to my work/cause/family gives makes me more valuable. 

What we believe: I fear that I’m dispensable/replaceable if I'm not busy.

What 'busy' means to us: I don’t want to.

What we think: It’s not you, it’s my schedule.

What we believe: “No” means, I’m mean.

What 'busy' means to us: I could have done better.

What we think: I have an excuse if I don’t meet my own/other’s expectations.

What we believe: Rejection, disappointment & failure are not acceptable if I'm not busy.

What 'busy' means to us: I’m afraid I’m missing out.

What we think: The more I know/see/do the better person I am.

What we believe: My current experience is not good enough.

What 'busy' means to us: I’m scared/I’m shameful.

What we think: If I can’t do it easily, it is not productive.

What we believe: I don’t have the tools to face this challenge.

What 'busy' means to us: I want to rest.

What we think: I’m exhausted.

What we believe: I only deserve rest, if I work myself to my limit.


How to shift out of busy, and into fulfilled.

Recognize you have a choice: We have groomed ourselves out of personal incentive by having dialogues peppered with “I have to”, “I need to”, “I can’t”, “I’m not able to. These mindless phrases frame us in a helplessness headspace. We can shift our control by catching these words and finding words of choice: “I want to”, “I would like to”, “I don’t want to”, “I would like assistance”. All of these underlie the base feeling of: I choose.


A new language for “I’m busy”:

  • It’s not my priority right now – I have the time, but I don’t want to use it for that, and I’m aware of the consequences.

  • I choose for this not-so-fun task to be my priority, because I understand and do not want to deal with the consequences of not doing it.

  • No”; I don’t want to; I would like to ___ insteadThese are ways to catch yourself from filling your “no” with an “I’m busy” excuse. If it feels uncomfortable saying this, then maybe it’s important to evaluate your priorities and why you were comfortable say “I’m busy” in replacement of “No”.
  • My priorities today are…
  • My commitments to … are more important to me than this new request. 


Five Conversation Replacers:

Q: How are you?

A: Instead of “I’m busy” say: 

I am feeling good about the work/time/commitment I’ve put into …”


Q: How was your day?

A: Instead of “I had a busy day” say: 

“I had fulfilling day” or “I focused heavily today, and now I’m taking time to recharge”


Q: Aren’t you exhausted?

A: Instead of “Yes” say:

“Thanks for noticing, It has been difficult to keep my priorities straight during this day/week/project/section of life.”


Q: You seem really busy?

A: Instead of “Yes, I’m really busy” say:

 I have chosen to put a lot energy into …”


Q: How is your work/life/project going?

A: Instead of “It’s busy” say:

“Things are going well/ I’ve got challenges but I’m keeping in line with my goals.”


The intent of bringing attention to how busy-ness affects our media consumption isn’t necessarily for the reduction of usage – it’s for mindful media usage. If we frame our day in personal incentives, our time spent with media is less likely to be a shelter from busy-ness. It has the opportunity to be engaging, to inspire us, to help us communicate with others, to spur ideas and benefit our communities. If we live our lives as a reflection of our choices, our mobile devices can change from being a refuge for stillness into a place for possibility and motivation.