We were walking the Las Vegas strip in a sea of people moving, talking, yelling as the bright lights flashed over head, fountains sprayed in unison to Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud To Be An American’ and slots chimed from every direction. As we strolled along this man made world of tackiness at its finest, we heard a rumbling and had stumbled upon showtime for the Mirage’s Volcano Eruption. We knew our daughter would think it was a blast (pun intended) so we stopped to watch the show. As the show began, almost as if synchronized, hands reached into pockets and purses and withdrew screens to hold in the air and video the volcano. We did not, we stood and watched. Perhaps the most symbolic of modern society was the man who ran up held his phone in the air while not even watching the show but instead looking around to see what else was going on.
A distraction is a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else. Distraction also means ‘extreme agitation of the mind.’ There is no doubt we are agitated, most people get irritated if someone interrupts them from sending a text or scrolling through Instagram. We walk around with our necks tilted down looking very unsettled and nervous. We even drive with our necks tilted down looking flustered as we read that next text. There’s always that next ‘ding’ to take our mind out of the moment and right back into the screen. We are distracted, in fact we are dangerously distracted.
My family was at the beach this summer and there among pastel colored homes and sandy streets were cyclists buzzing about. As one girl about the age of 14 cycled by, she had no hands on the bars of the bicycle but instead held her phone in the air texting completely unaware of anything going on around her…on a moving bicycle! My husband’s jaw dropped – not only is a decision like that not using your brain, it could be fatal. Every moment should have our full attention – period. In everything we do we should be using all of our senses to absorb the moment, to feel the moment. to be mindful of the moment. When we live on a phone over 8 hours a day out of every day we are not living in this world, we are choosing to live on a screen. Every second we choose to be on a digital device is a second of our life gone that we did not live in this world. When you think about the gift of a new day and how you want to spend that day – wouldn’t you rather be outside on a walk, playing with your children, learning a new skill, reading a book, really listening to a concert, planting a seed that might become a flower, or helping make a difference in this world, than allow a screen to absorb your mind and time?
When we are distracted on a device we are not fully living, we are not fully giving our attention to the present. When we are distracted on a device we are not mindful, we are in fact moving through life mindless. I have had conversations with my husband that I cannot recall because I was not giving him my full attention. I have missed moments with my child because I ‘had’ to reply to a text. I have been unable to focus on reading a book because my brain feels like scrambled eggs after being on a smart phone. But the constant connection is definitely something I have been weaning myself off of for the past several years. Not hopping on Facebook throughout the day, turning my phone to silent so that ‘ding’ ‘ding’ ‘ding’ doesn’t interrupt me from what I am presently doing, not having ‘alerts’ on my phone every time there’s a new email or Facebook message, and practicing meditation have all helped to create much needed boundaries in my life. Now when I walk down the street I feel the wind through my hair, I hear the song bird sing, I see the bee buzzing from flower to flower – there’s a whole world that’s happening all around us that when we don’t give our attention to we miss. These things albeit simple, these things that may have no direct positive impact on our income, are things that do have a direct impact on our soul.
Most of the time our minds are swimming in thoughts, thoughts that require silence to turn them off. To actually meditate means achieving a place of ‘no thought’, to simply be. It is in this silence that we discover our true self. Without this silence we are constantly bombarded with noise. It is only in this silence that we achieve mindfulness, consciousness – awareness of the soul. With our phones now attached to our hands we are never able to be silent, to be still, to be aware of our soul. It is in this silence that our soul thrives, that our creativity grows, that our brain achieves a healthy balance of calm energy, that our spirit shines. Throughout the ages philosophers have urged us to seek consciousness over the ego. Our ego is defined by that little voice in our head that tells us we are not good enough or we are the best in the world, it tells us we are angry or hurt, it tells us we are better than other people, it feeds off of our insecurities and drives dramatic emotional responses. Our ego loves the noise and currently there is no better place to find noise than on a smart phone. Social media in essence has created a ‘collective ego’ – a place where we can get angry at anyone we choose, a place where we can spout off opinions as if we are experts, a place where we can impress each other with our lives, a place where we can all be self-absorbed in our own worlds – together. It is in fact the apex of the ego. So what would happen if we just stopped, or if we just didn’t do it quite so much? By not posting your thoughts on Brangelina – will the world rock on its axis? By not scrolling through and liking pictures of kittens and toes in the sand – will the world stop rotating? By not posting your photo montage tribute on National Cheeseburger Day – will the sun decide not to rise? What will happen is you will gain some moments back into your life here on earth – moments you can use to play outside with your children, cook a real cheeseburger meal for your family, go to the beach and truly listen to the waves and feel the salty water against your skin, or learn a new art or skill. Moments that can be added to your life, not taken away from it.
On a trip to New York for a friend’s wedding, yes I took pictures and yes I posted here and there, but for the most part I simply lived and when I did that, I had no time for social media. When I got up early in the morning to go to the New York Flower Market I smelled the incredible scents of the flowers that filled the stores. When I agreed to help my friend with her wedding flowers, I zoned out and arranged the flowers into beautiful floral displays. When I sat listening to the beautiful jazz tribute to their lives, I became immersed in the music to the point it swept over me and brought tears of joy to my eyes. When I got up early one morning to go to the Union Square Market I found myself talking to beekeepers and farmers completely consumed in conversation with other human beings. When I chose to wonder around the streets of Manhattan exploring, I observed the architecture all around me, the scents of cuisine wafting through the air, the people making their way passed me on the street, the dogs trotting along the sidewalks, the full harvest moon shining like a beacon that fall is on its way – life was happening all around me, not on a screen.
Recently while having coffee with a friend who shares some of my same beliefs on technology, she asked, “I just have to wonder are we better off?” It is a question we should all ask. It is a question that I have wondered again and again. My mom is involved in hosting a quilt show in Alabama every spring. This past spring a quilt pre-dating the Civil War was shown. Still intact and colorful, I was overcome with emotion looking at this piece of history. What struck me more than anything was its tangibleness. Here this quilt which was made by hands, in fact hands of many women in the community where it was made, has made it through seven generations. What can we say in today’s society will last through seven generations? Seven generations ago a group of women got to together with a purpose – to create this beautiful quilt. In fact quilting bees were extremely popular social events in mid nineteenth century. At a quilting bee each person had a specialized job, even the children had jobs. It was a community activity, it brought people together and it created something tangible. As humans we are meant to create and we are meant to use our hands, there is a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment in doing so that will last long after we are no longer on this earth. A sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that can never be replaced with typing words with our thumbs to be sent into space.
The volcano eruption had ended and now the galley of self appointed social media warriors were busy uploading their videos. As the dings of the slots machines continued and the bright lights flashed in all directions, I realized that walking along the Vegas strip was much like living in a cell phone – the texts constantly ding and the social media world never shuts off, and its all expendable with no real intrinsic value.