I thought about all this as I was trying to convince myself to get out of bed this morning for my walk, which has become part of my early morning routine. Routine. I get up at almost the same time each morning. Get out of my bed on the same side. Put on my clothes for the walk in the same order. Warm up the same way. Is this routine turning me into a machine? But aren’t routines a necessary part of modern life? I decided to ponder this during my walk – with a slight twist: I would walk a new route and see how I’d react to that.
As I was leaving, I already noticed that putting my cell phone into my pouch the other way was creating some anxiety. This was going to be interesting! My new route would have to be about 30 minutes long. Why? Well, if I’d take longer, I would get home later, I would get ready later, and miss my bus and would be at work 10 minutes later. And what would be bad about that? Nothing really since I don’t have to punch in. I had been early a few days this week, so it would probably a wash anyway. Yet, it was clear that here was one reason for my routine: It would allow me to fit in; to not rattle the work boat by showing up slightly late because there was something on my walk that needed exploring. So, routines are part of modern life because they enable us to fit in, to abide by the status quo.
The thing I noticed on my non-routine walk: It was more fun! I felt more alive. I felt excited to see streets I’ve been on before from a different angle, a different side. And I decided not to worry about taking a few minutes longer, realizing that I’d either make up the time or just take a later bus.
The other thing I realized on my non-routine walk: Bettelheim argues to avoid becoming human machines, we cannot go back in time (become the craftsmen again) instead we need to find ways to utilize technology/science to our advantage while at the same time preserving our autonomy. And what exactly is this autonomy?
[Autonomy] has to do with man’s inner ability to govern himself, and with a conscientious search for meaning despite the realization that, as far as we know, there is no purpose to one’s life. It is a concept that does not imply a revolt against authority qua authority, but rather a quiet acting out of inner conviction, not out of convenience or resentment, or because of external persuasion or controls.” (75)
It means that we’re true to ourselves, that we don’t date just because everybody else is doing it but embrace being single if that is what makes us happiest. That we don’t marry because everybody else does it or because it’s more convenient to get the 1,300+ benefits in one package but rather refuse to marry in order to get this package because we’d be giving up our conviction that marriage is an outmoded, patriarchal institution we’d rather shun. It means that we go back to school if we’re tired of being an automaton at work even if that creates much anxiety around real and imagined issues. Essentially, it means being authentic to ourselves. The challenge is to do that despite all the societal pressures to conform (including those 1,300+ benefits or the subtle and not so subtle suggestions that there’s something wrong with us if we’re single). And at the same time finding ways of living autonomous while enabling the existence of a society because living in a social network does provide us with many benefits (including police and fire protection).
I wonder what our society would look like if we’d stop being human machines and would break out of our routines more often. Clearly, there is some use for routines – they do give us a sense of security but what price do we pay for this security? And could we have routines that also allow us to remain alive rather than turn into machines?