Recently, a number of studies have come out confirming my worst fears—that social media is not really social, and that the more time we spend engaging with it, the worse we feel. But new evidence suggests that the influence that social media is inflicting on our youth may just be destroying them. They've been coined the I-Generation, and the statistics are both dangerously overwhelming and unparalleled in any previous generation. Not only are the rates of depression and suicide multiplying, but the actual capacity to be with other human beings—to share space—is at an all-time low.
For me, what is most troubling is the way in which our youth have lost the desire and the courage to be together. Instead of fully participating in life, they prefer to remain alone and watch it from a screen. I know from experience that we cannot tell anyone anything, and shifting this generation back into life will not happen through coercion, fearmongering, or guilt. Instead, in the spirit of You. We. All, I think we need to collectively start asking different and better questions that may get us all thinking differently about how we allow technology to direct our days.
Here are a few I rely on to pull my kids (and myself) back into the moment.
Where is your attention?
The other day at the gym, I realized that I was moving through my squatting and lifting practice without the slightest idea of how many I had just done or how many I had left. I floated off somewhere, completely out of my body, while lifting 25-pound weights. It woke me up, this heavy lifting without any attention. Does my body earn the same rewards when I am only half there? I don’t think so. I know the same is true in relationships. I can’t count the number of times when I am out in the world—at a restaurant, walking down the street, sitting in a park, or in the grocery aisle—witnessing people who arrived together but who aren’t together, each totally fixated on their own mobile devices. Even sometimes at our dinner table, I have to draw the line: No phones allowed.
Attention is life’s most precious currency, and we surrender ours too willingly in our efforts to see and be seen in a digital universe instead of feeling the people we are standing next to. What we hunger for is the real generosity and connection that happens in the moments when we are heard and seen in 3-D by the people we care for.
What don't I know?
We all prefer to know rather than not know. We want certitude; we are committed to being right in ways that close the door to what we don’t and can’t know about a given situation. This is especially true about relating to other people and one of the reasons we opt for superficial online likes rather than participating in complex and often obtuse real-life interactions.
Even worse, social media apps feed our tendency to take small bits of data and draw sweeping and hurtful conclusions about others and situations. More often than not, what we see online is a snippet—yes, we may have been left out, but maybe there was nothing really to participate in.
There is always more than what we can see, especially when we're only looking through the lens of social media. Keeping our mind open and curious will not only help us feel better but hopefully will bring us to a realization of what is right in front of us in this present moment. Holding your attention on the unknown feels edgy sometimes, but it is also full of possibility. Try not knowing more often and see what opens up in front of you.
Can I risk my heart?
This is the question that leads to much of current social media addiction. Tragically, for too many people, it takes only one heartbreaking experience for us to decide that it is too dangerous to let life come in so deeply. Whole worlds close down for us with that decision. As soon as we stop trusting our capacity to open our hearts to the people near us, there is a distance and guardedness that infiltrates every encounter.
The intimacy we crave is locked at the door to our hearts. We mistake our own decision to close down and then our experiences start looking like everyone else is to blame. It’s a slippery slope that leads to a dark hole where all we can do is distract ourselves from the emptiness of our daily experience. Giving up the idea that we can figure everything out in our minds and having the courage to let things be as they are takes time, real time in shared experience with the people we are trying to love.
So I say it again: Put down your device. Ask better questions. Risk the real thing.
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