x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Just imagine the possibilities of imagination

We live in a world where we are constantly chasing the next thing to satisfy those eager questions: when are you going to graduate? When are you getting a "real" job? When are you getting married? When are you having kids?

My friend calls me at 6.30 in the morning and says: "I feel like I have done nothing this year." At a time of day too early for me to function, I tried to rationalise her irrational sentence, but failed to do so. My friend by that time was already on her way to the office. In the past year, she has been enrolled in two Master's degree programmes and flown all over the world signing treaties and memorandums of understanding, not to mention that she has a strict schedule of exercise.

I attempted to comprehend her unreasonable sense of worry and for an hour talked her through her anxiety about ticking off achievements on her to-do list. "I need to go," she responded. "I just wasted an hour talking to you, and I could have finished my reading before getting to the office." I hung up, went back to bed and immersed myself in my imaginary world, swearing that I would slap some reality into her. But is that really possible when we live in a world where we are constantly chasing the next thing to satisfy those eager questions: when are you going to graduate? When are you getting a "real" job? When are you getting married? When are you having kids? Congrats, a baby girl is a bundle of joy, but when will you have a boy?

When asked, "How are you?", you switch into your autopilot and say: "fine", "great" or "OK". Sometimes, you list all the things you have done to let others know that you are not just using up air. Maybe we need to simply say: "I am waiting." Waiting for my coffee; waiting for my phone to ring; just waiting for the next thing to come along. Immersing oneself in the moment is impractical in this world ruled by the microwave approach to life. Place food, close door, wait 30 seconds. Ding!

In this marathon, are we allowed to sit back and enjoy the moment as others run by us? Should we define living or seizing the day as does a recent advertisement by a local bank: "Carpe Dirham". Or as Dubai 92 FM puts it: "If you are not shopping, why aren't you partying? And if you are not partying, why aren't you shopping?" Our constant need for stimulation might just be an illusion that we try to hide ourselves behind. We attempt to show that we are continually occupied to avoid being accused of loneliness. We fidget with our mobile phones, read an old text message or shield our selves behind a newspaper. Why can't we just be like children, who have not yet been intimidated by our social norms? They smile, stare and sit pointlessly without hesitation.

We wait in waiting rooms for our appointment, wait in an elevator to get to our floor and wait in a coffee shop sipping our coffee. We recognise yet dismiss the existence of others around us; we awkwardly avoid all sort of eye contact. People want to be around others, yet they disconnect from them. You tap your feet, look at your watch, or fix that broken link on your bracelet that you never seem to have noticed before. You focus your attention on trivialities; every crumb of bread or drop of spilt drink.

But then you might be engaged with your surroundings, observing every minor move that happens around you. Like those shop attendants in small villages or in tiny stores around town: they sit, staring at all the passers-by, their eyes moving from right to left following every move. They observe while waiting for an infrequent customer; they wait - this is life for them. Is observing living in the moment, storing everything in your mind to form a memory? Or is observing another form of listlessly passing time?

We might choose to save our memories on a digital memory card by clicking on a button of a camera or, as my friend does, keep a list of things she has done to look back on with satisfaction. But then, most memories are not just objective records of what has gone on before. Every moment is created through a process that involves the body, the soul and the mind. The body is only the structure that traps the soul and mind. If only one part of us is a physical entity, could we (the soul and mind) transcend this body?

Let's be frank, imagination is infinite. It takes you to places you've never been and allows you to cross paths you've never encountered. But memories are limited, selective and depend on one's perspective. Why do we linger on a passing moment, when we can create our own universe? What are we waiting for then? Aren't we what we imagine ourselves to be? Where we imagine being? Maybe we should trap ourselves in our imagination - we might just be far greater beings in our imaginary world. Or does what we choose to remember determine what we are able to imagine?

Is it just me or, as we've been waiting for the little things, the decade since the turn of the millennium has passed by in a blink? The Y2K bug that the world feared back then did not create chaos in computer systems But maybe it affected how our time works. Maybe we need to ask time to simply wait along with the rest of us. Hissa al Dhaheri is a sociologist and cultural researcher