Watching the Batman marathon last week reminded me of the genius that is Christopher Nolan. Then I remembered Memento – the first Nolan movie I had seen which got me wondering if the short story that it was based on, ‘Memento Mori’ , was by by Philip K Dick (As it turns out it isn’t – it was written by Nolan’s brother).
What that search led to however, is the meaning of the phrase ‘Memento Mori’: It is a latin for: ‘In the future, remember to die’, also translated as ‘Remember you will die’ (
). Of course, this reminded me of something that Steve Jobs said in his famous commencement speech – “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”(
What it also reminded me of was one of the thought experiments in the book Einstein’s dreams. In Einstein’s dreams Alan Lightman (or rather his fictional Einstein) imagines different manifestations of time. What if time was circular, what if it moved more slowly with altitude, what if we only lived for a day and so on. One of those thought experiments is about living forever (and I mean without a blood thirst). He imagines that in this world, people would be split between the Laters and the Nows. The Laters feel like they need to be in no hurry to begin their lives – to go to college, to fall in love, to do anything. Since there is endless time, anything can be accomplised. The Nows on the other hand, given infinite lives can now do everything that they want. They will have an infinite number of careers, marry an infinite number of times – they move through a succession of lives eager to miss nothing.
I sometimes feel like a Now, stuck in a finite life. As you can imagine, I frequently have bouts of FOMO.
I have a lot of lists. I have a list of things to watch (spread across Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, TED and IMDB), I have things to read(Bookmarked on Readability or a never ending Wish List on Amazon) , places to travel to, things to do at those places, sports to play, friends to make, musical instruments to learn, songs to listen to, books to write, blogs posts to publish, successful people to emuate, successful people to beat, successful people to meet, restaurants to visit, companies and projects to start, skills to learn, web articles to read and so on (Okay, not everything is on a list, but given the right app, they probably will be). And yet I have one life. I wonder how many lifetimes I would need if I were to actually calculate how long it will take for me to do these things.
We live in a world of such plenty, that there is always something to do, something new, something to fill our time with. One of my most memorable life experiences were when I worked at an NGO for a month, in the town (village?) of Hatgamahria in Chattisgarh. Oh! the joys of a simple life. I got one newspaper to read everyday, the only news magazine I could find was when I traveled to the (only marginally more endowed) town of Chaibasa in a rickety bus, there was no cell service, no internet. I wanted to run away after the first two weeks, but then I got used to a life with limited choices – and gained so much more from it than when I am in the city and spreading myself too thin. I have to remind myself of #13 on this
every now and then.
Prof. Burnett, one of my teachers was once telling a bunch of executives about saying ‘No’ by relating one of his life experiences. A long time ago he would have a never ending to-do list. He would say yes to something, and then it wouldn’t get done because he just hadn’t gotten to it yet. Now, he curates that list carefully. He says no to a lot of things, but the things that do make it to that list are the things that get done.
A good life, much like good design is not about what you add but what you take away. To consume less, to create more. So I want to tell myself, memento mori. Remember that and prioritise. Remember that and act. Remember that and create. Remember and therefore not regret.
Of course, I would go right ahead and turn this into an app idea, wouldn’t I? An app where you can make any kind of a list. But an app that also reminds you that not everything on those lists can be done in your lifetime. I know what I will call it: Mori.