I just watched two of my fellow human beings walk across a busy Chicago street while lost in the world of their phones. Shortly after they sauntered into the crosswalk, cabs and other cars honked violently, startling these tech-obsessed pedestrians to a disturbing point. Clutching their chests and taking a few deep breaths, the walkers continued on, choosing to re-enter the digital sphere once safely across the street.
That has so been me. I’ve been that person so absorbed by the touch screen, so engrossed in a world of millions, that I’m neglecting the world I actually live in. Sure, I may be present and focused by definition, but at what cost? At the cost of my memory, my real awareness, even my relationships.
I do my best to put the phone away when spending quality time with others, but because we all live in the same world and we all use these devices, we all have the same strange addiction to them. We’re tolerant of each other as we communicate with everyone else but the ones we’re with.
Beyond the very basic tenants of memory we used to hold so dear (remembering phone numbers, addresses, birthdays and details of loved ones, etc.), lies a direct correlation between how much we use our brains and how much we substitute them with our phones.
There’s a heap of people to support and uplift in real life, relationships that involve much more than texts, memes and photos of adorable cats. There are strangers on the train, bus, at the coffee shop, and on the elevator who could benefit from our direct engagement. A smile, a soft rub on the back, a small compliment; these are all opportunities we miss when we’re lost in our devices and disengaged from real life.
In an effort to strike a healthier balance, I created a list of intentions. These are commitments I’m making to myself and to my human and animal friends:
- One gadget at a time. If I’m writing on my computer, focus on one tool, save the battery on my phone, save my mind from being fragmented. These tools make multitasking too easy, and I'd rather do one task well.
- No phone while eating. Fueling my body is such a primal ritual and one that deserves my full attention. I often share this blessed ritual with others, who deserve my eye contact and awareness as well.
- One universe at a time. I’d never use my phone while teaching, I wouldn’t want to, but if I’m out and about, walking the busy streets of Chicago, there’s enough to keep me entertained, I don’t need to stare at a screen and miss out on real life.
- Don’t allow technology to be a cure for boredom. I now designate times to catch up on news and other musings online. My morning routine involves tea, breakfast, a walk with the dogs (sans the phone), and an online review. There's no such thing as being in-between events. Now I can find more useful ways to spend valuable time and energy over perusing Facebook again and again.
- Be more engaged with the people in the room than people inside the screen. Don't interrupt a real-time conversation to answer a text or email. This may seem obvious, but it’s something I’ve been guilty of in the past, as if the device will explode if I don’t tend to it immediately.
- Use tools, internet and social media to spread knowledge, optimism and love, nothing else. I shouldn’t derive my sense of self or glean any real insight into my relationships via the interweb.
- Spend more time looking into the eyes of human beings, listening to their voices, absorbing the beauty of the Earth as it changes everyday, than looking through a filtered lens at the lives of others.
If you resonate with any of these common distractions, I’m sure you’d find your own balance with your own carefully crafted intentions. Just as in yoga, we seek to master the mind, filter through distractions, sift through nonsense so we can become clear. All that’s required is awareness. Notice your own experience in everyday life and if you need to re-calibrate, give yourself permission and adjust.
I love this wacky little world we’re all a part of, and I’m so excited to see where technology can take us (space!), but not at the expense of real living. I don't want to be a witness to a simulated life; I want to live one.
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