Jul 17, 2010

Road kill in the fast lane

Life in the fast lane
Surely make you lose your mind
Life in the fast lane, everything all the time

-- From the Eagles' song (c) 1976 

It's a bit frightening how the theme of a silly pop song inspired by an out-of-control ride with a drug dealer has become a description of the reality of life for too many today. Everything all the time. Always connected, always available, 24/7 at work and at your service. For what?

Certainly not for quality and even less for mental and physical health.

Bob Herbert, a New York Times columnist, advises that we "tweet less and kiss more". I couldn't agree more. Now if only I can convince my lady of that....

This post was originally inspired as a response to or affirmation of Corinne McKay's commentary on the importance of downtime. In it she referenced an article from Science which described how time off and rest is essential to creativity.

My own experience has had numerous incidents that illuminate the role of rest in creativity and productivity. My start as a programmer of scripted applications for the Macintosh years ago came after I told a friend that a jigsaw puzzle would be too difficult to program on the Mac for her three year old. I shut off the computer, went to sleep and woke up at 3 am with all the code dancing in my head. Hyperpuzzle was born and enjoyed some use in rehabilitation and recreation with image sections scrambled, rotated and mirrored through two axes. My invention of the first UV-blocking silicone material for intraocular lenses came from an inspiration I had while nodding off in a really boring organic chemistry lecture at USC. Patentable breakthroughs in my research with radiation-curable adhesives came when I blew off the lab and went home to wash dishes or wander the halls of the LA County Natural History Museum and look at dinosaur bones.

The list of evidence is much longer than that, more likely because I'm getting old and not because I'm more creative than my peers. (I'm not, but I am slightly less crazy than some.) Very little work of which I am proud has resulted from a frontal assault on the problem. Rested, indirect paths inevitably lead to a better result.

This holds true in translation too. Am I the only one who finds that a text flows better and my translation has more rhetorical polish in the first draft than it would after two re-writes if I just walk away from it for a while and look again with fresh eyes? Or am I the only one who sees the deadline-driven mass production quality-be-damned-MT-will-soon-be-good-enough approach to translation as a deeply poisonous thing?

If you have no work, a deadline isn't usually a bad thing, and schedules are important and unavoidable to plan our activities in some reasonable way. But too seldom is a distinction made between important and arbitrary deadlines. To one person "important" might mean having the translation on the day before he leaves on holiday so he can lie rested on the beach for a month knowing that the text is awaiting him upon return. Or perhaps the person assigning the job can demonstrate great efficiency and competence and impress her boss by having another person turn the translation around a week sooner than she might be able to do with her busy days. No explanted heart on ice here awaiting the translation of instructions for how to implant it in the patient lying on the operating room table now.

If you have work - lots of it - and do not have the wisdom to leave off calculating all your time as a financial asset, you may eventually find the value of that time deteriorating in proportion to how much of it you invest in work. At extreme levels of commitment that deterioration appears to follow an exponential function.

Quality is worth its price. Rest promotes quality. Work less and charge more. Discerning customers will be grateful.


  1. Spot on Kevin. But we do need to keep reminding ourselves of this because it's all too easy to get back into a "continuous earning cycle" and forget to rest and regenerate (even when we've been there before). :(

  2. Alex, I read an "interesting" post on PrAdZ this afternoon, which led me to write one of my now-rare comments in that environment. The thread was titled "Juggling work and eating--how do you do it?" and is a fine example of the absurdities that many language professionals accept. The challenge behind the original poster's question is, of course, a serious one, as was my response explaining the possibilities of technical modifications to hydration vests in conjunction with adult diapers to achieve greater work productivity. We all need to refine our priorities to achieve our maximum potential :-)


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