I pull up to a stop light. It’s a beautiful day – the sun is set high in the deep blue sky and the snow-capped mountains look nothing short of majestic looming in the distance. I marvel. I look to the car stopped to my right to see if the man driving the car is also noticing. He’s pulled out his cell phone and is furiously typing away. I shrug and look to the car to my left – the woman driving is also intently staring at her cellphone. It hit me: we are losing the ability to be present.
Have we forgotten what it’s like to just be?
I have to admit, I’m often guilty of the same kinds of things: I feel the nagging pull to check my phone when I’m stopped in the car. I feel the urge to check my e-mails, scan my social media accounts, and surf the Internet almost immediately upon waking.
Our culture highly promotes this fascination and absolute obsession with technology. It seems that we cannot even be in a room with other humans anymore without being on her cell phones at the same time, logged in to our social media accounts or snapping selfies to post for all to see.
What I’m telling you certainly isn’t news. I think we’re all aware of this obsession. Are we so aware of how much it really consumes our lives? I’m not so sure.
I’m going to throw a couple ideas out there and feel free to chew on them a little bit.
First: We’ve become afraid of actual, real-life, in-the-flesh human connection. Not all of us, certainly. But I notice that wherever we are, whether it’s sitting at the DMV, amidst family or friends, at a restaurant, etc. we are consistently tuned out. This is even worse for the newer generations who have grown up knowing and using technology – every single life event must be captured through an intermediary device (i.e. cell phone) and immediately posted elsewhere. Does this mean the actual life event isn’t REALLY being experienced?
Not only are actual moments not simply experienced as they are, but they’re also highly manipulated through the intermediary device (i.e. adding ‘filters’ to photos, for instance). Buried way, way underneath the desire to stay relatively “tuned out” from reality may just be a fear of human connection. Living in a technological world, we’re being trained to avoid actual contact and accustomed to communication through our devices.
Second: We no longer know how to engage with the moment as it is. We no longer know how to be still and we’re totally and completely afraid of stillness. American culture promotes the hurried, fast-paced lifestyle. We’re constantly hurrying from one thing to the next. How often do you find yourself, say, stuck in traffic and unable to stop thinking about what you’re going to do when you aren’t stuck in traffic? Do you do the same thing while at work? If we’re totally honest with ourselves, we do this all the time in most every situation, desirable or seemingly undesirable. We’re so accustomed to avoiding the present moment that we habitually imagine what we’ll be doing next. This may become so habitual that even when we’re at the seemingly desired destination that we’ve been imagining (i.e. home after a long day of work) we can’t stop imagining another place in another time (i.e. tomorrow at work).
When we do actually have a moment of stillness, we often feel strange as though we should be doing something or completing something. If you’ve ever tried meditation, notice that it is often difficult to remain present, without thoughts about the past or future, and without an urge to go do something else. It’s ingrained in us.
The constant urge to be on our phones or online is one symptom of this restlessness.
However, this restless lifestyle feels absolutely awful – the rates of depression are skyrocketing in America as it’s documented that more and more Americans are working overtime and skipping vacation days. With technology consuming our lives, we’re also bombarded constantly with information overload which not only activates a stress response within our bodies, but actually makes our brains far less efficient.
So while it’s certainly true that being a part of the world today means that we’ll use or come into contact with technology in one form or another (and we may as well embrace it), should it take the place of actual, real-life experience or actual, real-life contact with others?
I’m not so sure.
Let’s remember how to be. Simply be. Without distraction.
Here’s to the moment, to stillness, and to attention spans that are as wide and wavering as the ocean.