This Restless Life: Review

8 November 2009

Written by: Christopher Scanlon

Ours is an era of choice. Take internet dating for example. Blonde, blue eyes with a Brad Pitt look? Or do I go with tall, brunette and rugged Hugh Jackman style? It’s all too hard. The choices are endless. Will my true Prince Charming appear through five clicks of a mouse button. Given that ‘Dr Love’ is listed as possible lover, perhaps not.

Brigid Delaney’s This Restless Life explores this ever-changing world of choice and prosperity. Delaney, a journalist, former lawyer and staff reporter, describes the life we are consuming and living as ‘churning.’ It is the constant changing of minds, an unsettling life, moving from one place to another. Or, to put it in Gen Y terms, being ‘over it,’ and things being ‘soo yesterday’.

Delaney is a veteran of the churning game. She’s worked 144 jobs and lived in 15 countries over the past 15 years. I can’t even compete; 20 years of age, four jobs and I’ve lived in only one country and one state.

Delaney’s book explores the varieties of restlessness in love, work and travel that has been shaped by the movement of globalisation and the impact of modern technology. She takes a cynical approach to speed dating and online dating, arguing that it messes with traditional ideals of romantic love. Serendipity is the major casualty, romance is dead and dating has turned into an online meat market shopping experience.

Certainly, romance has changed and the methods of finding ‘The One’ are endless, from a chat site, to an online dating service, speed dating to Facebook. Love might be in danger of becoming a commodity, but I’m not sure that serendipity is dead. It’s just restless love for a restless generation. Everyone is looking for love and happiness in some form, and in the end, it shouldn’t matter how they got there, just as long as they do.

We are victims of social cyber-interaction. We are one click of a button away from logging on to Facebook and seeing what our 324 friends are doing. Technology is making it difficult for us to be alone. Delaney says we’ve never been more connected, socially and intellectually with the world. The days of travelling on an open road without Blackberries, iPhones, mobile internet USB plugs, mobile phones and instant messaging have gone. We have lost the feeling of isolation and distance all because of technology.

Delaney started writing this book on the move, across nine cities and three continents, in a time of champagne and parties, extravagant travel and the rejuvenation of cocaine. Using examples of fellow journalists whose lives are ‘churning’ through work and adventure around the globe, Delaney paints a harsh picture of our modern job economy and the restless life of a journo. These are ‘churners’ who live casual jobs with short-term contracts, without ever developing strong ties, a solid reputation with the company or lasting in a job long enough to deserve a farewell party.

‘Keep it loose, keep expectations low and have ties that are slack.’ This is Delaney’s message. According to Delaney, those who choose this form of lifestyle want adventure, risks and freedom. But the winners in the restless economy are those who are flexible, adaptable and don’t expect too much from their employer.

While Delaney retells the personal accounts of friends, many readers will finish a little disappointed not to have heard more about Delaney’s own 15 years of restless experiences and adventures. I had high expectations for this book, yet was left a little bewildered why she took an analytical approach to living as a journalist and churner,. I wanted more personal reflection. Perhaps she has broken with restlessness and found security and stability in her life with a partner and full time work. I wanted to know.

The third section of the book examines the popular world of travel and debates the complicated and qualified question, where are you from? Whether home is that stretch of land, twenty kilometers long down the Princes Highway, or Berlin, Rome, Norway, London or Peru, Delaney says wherever you are, the real fun is happening elsewhere. With advanced economies and the fear of the global recession removed, more and more people are hitting the skyways, especially when air travel to London is only $1500. Delaney treats living overseas as if it were as easy as changing your hairstyle. For the hyper-mobile, young and restless people out there, Delaney’s only advice is to take risks, and not to be too rooted too attached to anywhere or anything.

This book is an injection of reality serum for those living their own restless lives juggling multiple jobs, study and a burning curiosity to explore the big wide world. For journalism students thinking about their career, this book will leave a billion questions buzzing around in your mind. What happens when you dream of permanence and stability and you want to start a family and settle down? Or the time when you realise you don’t have a regular coffee shop or any furniture that isn’t used or disposable? This book explores the outcomes for a generation competing with multi-tasking whizzes with perhaps a naive idea of the perfect ‘travel- journalism world.’

By the way, I’ve told my 296 Facebook friends I’m writing this review.

This Restless Life by Brigid Delaney is published by Melbourne University Press

Sarah Baker is an emerging journalist who is in her final-year of a Bachelor of Journalism at La Trobe University.

Do you think This Restless Life is a book every journalist should read?

Over the coming months, Upstart will be developing its list of #topournobooks. See what else has made the cut so far.

  • Jessica Walker

    Excellent review on a book that obviously is very poignant for our era SB! Perhaps serendipity is not dead yet- but even if you meet somebody the “old fashioned way” (not online) – once you know their name you can still check their facebook page to suss them out first!

  • Elise Moore

    What a great review Sarah. We definately are living in an ‘era of choice.’ Good point about what it offers journo students….lots of lingering queries about stability and hyper-mobility….I agree that it was annoying that Delaney didn’t offer more of her own opinion or travel experiences…i guess we’ll have to make up our own minds about the ‘restless life.’ Well done!!!!