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The Space Out Competition - Would you win at doing nothing?

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

Bill met Jane at a party where neither really knew anyone. He had been invited by a coworker who cancelled minutes after Bill had already arrived. Jane had come with social butterfly colleagues who flitted away into the shadowy recesses of the party as soon as they'd walked through the door.

As the night progressed, Bill found himself standing silently in a corner by a paisley curtain that matched his shirt, effectively camouflaging him from the questioning gaze of the party zombies . Trying his best not to attract attention, or worse - company, he awkwardly refreshed his Facebook app, desperate for a new post to keep himself distracted. A gif of a sneezing panda. A meme concerning a racist zebra. Donald Drumpf's latest ignorant tirade. Something. Anything.

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Jane, meanwhile, was seated on the couch. She flicked through the news, constantly reminding herself that no one here cared about any of it. Not the genocide being perpetrated, slowly but surely, by another tinpot African dictator. Not the Japanese dolphin massacres. And certainly not the insidious marketing ploys of Big Pharma. They just wouldn't get it. Any of it.

She reached the end of her newsfeed and panicked. Would she actually be forced to interact with people now? Bill, meanwhile, had just hit the jackpot - a GoPro video of a skateboarder who attempted a stunt but instead fell down a flight of stairs, cursing the whole topsy-turvy way down.

Forgetting where he was for a moment, he snorted with laughter. He caught himself mid-snort, looking around in the hope that no one had heard. No one had. Except Jane.

Embarrassed, Bill walked over to Jane. Without saying a word, he showed her the video, as a means of explanation. And possibly apology. Jane smiled at the skateboarder's pain despite herself. Suddenly, the moment the two shared was broken by a ping. She looked at her phone. A flashing alert informed her that Buzzfeed had a story on 20 of the world's most epic moustaches. "It's international moustache day," she thought to herself, "I didn't know that."

Bill used the interruption to slink away, wondering all the while which of his friends to tag in the video's comment section.

The two never met again.

The lost art of doing nothing

The story of Bill and Jane is a made-up one, sure. But it's a tale that reflects the direction in which the human race, as a whole, is headed. Low on human interaction, high on digital distraction. There is no part of our day that remains immune to interruption. Be it social media updates, news updates, texts, calls, or emails.

Work, friends, family and sketchy telemarketers all play their part, ensuring that a moment of mental peace is now rarer than an intelligent post in the comment sections of Congress-BJP news post.

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Numbed by constant, endless distraction, we've actually forgotten what it's like to do nothing. To just sit. To look out a window without the need to inform someone that that's what your doing. Or document it and share it for cheap likes on a plethora of social media sites. To be all right in a moment of silence. Or comfortable in moments of isolation. To just space out.

The sport of spacing out

While we continue to barrel forward into an endless abyss of doing, some people have decided that enough is too much. Which is why, now, the world is home to the competitive sport of doing nothing.

Not doing nothing in the sense that we usually mean it - watching a show, listening to music or talking on the phone. But actually doing nothing.

Started in 2014 in South Korea, participants in the 'sport' gather in parks to sit and space out. Phones are not allowed. Nor are music players. No books. No food. And, importantly, no sudden or conspicuous movement. At all.

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Competitors just sit still for two hours. Bodies present. Minds, not so much. Winners are determined not just based on their outwardly display of zen, but on their heart rates as well, which are checked by volunteers who move around as silently as possible.

Called the Space Out Competition, the event was started by Korean visual artist WoopsYang. To highlight the dangers of South Korea's fast-paced way of life. With many complaining of high levels of stress and one of the highest rates of suicide in the world, WoopsYang, who was himself suffering from burnout at the time, recognised that something had to change, or at least, be highlighted.

What started as an art project intended to draw the wider public's attention to the need to give one's brain a break and just slow down, is now a veritable phenomenon. This year, the contest had over 2000 applicants vying for the 70 spaces on offer in the finals. WoopsYang even had to hold qualifying rounds to narrow down the field.

The winner was a Korean rapper named Crush, who took part after the stress he experienced cutting a new album. Speaking at the award ceremony, Crush said the event was "highly recommended for those who have migraines or complicated thoughts."

The competition's relevance in today's rat race was highlighted by the fact that it was supported by the Seoul City Council. South Korea isn't the only country that needs a break though, China has also joined Korea in spacing out, with their first Space Out Competition in 2015.

Now, with India's growing population going in a similar direction, we'll need one here soon as well. Oh wait, a large number of people gathered for hours doing nothing? We already have that, we just call it parliament.

First published: 23 June 2016, 11:31 IST
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.