A Reading Note

In an essay about seeing, Byung-Chul Han drops this surprising statement:

Today we live in a world that is very poor in interruption; “betweens” and “between-time” are lacking. Acceleration is abolishing all intervals.

Han, The Burnout Society, page 22

I wanted to argue with this when I first read it—how can we say we live in a world that lacks interruption? But part of Han’s point in this essay is that seeing requires patience, requires letting the sight of something come to you, requires not reacting before you’ve seen fully. And looking more closely I think he has a very good point: which is that we live in a world full of distractions but short on breaks. The time between activities is consumed by other activities—the scrolling, swiping, tapping of managing a never-ending stream of notifications, of things coming at us that need doing. All that stuff means moments of absolutely nothing—of a gap, of an interval, of a beautiful absence—are themselves absent, missing, abolished.

I’ve no magic wand to restore those intervals, but I have noticed that if you shove those consuming activities away, you can get a glimpse of the between-time they had smothered. It’s like cracking a huge, heavy door that wants very much to shut itself closed again, but if you put your shoulder into it, if you push, you can open some space. You can keep it open.

Related books

The Burnout Society

Byung-Chul Han

The modern day worker, argues Byung-Chul Han, is an “entrepreneur of themselves.”