Swimming on the Surface
Information has never been more readily available to most of us than it is today. News travels across the globe in seconds, not hours; long lost old high school friends are at our fingertips on social networks; and the answer to nearly any question is just a google away. As more and more aspects of our lives are connected online, some of us find ourselves asking what kind of a future we’re moving into, and what exactly are we leaving behind?
Now, I know what you’re thinking…. PLEASE don’t tell me this is another blog post written by a self-righteous white male twenty-something who is going to preach at me about the evils of technology from his Apple computer and broadband internet connection. I would be thinking the same thing if I were you. That’s not the point I’m interested in making. I’m not going to tell you to throw your iPhone into the lake, or delete your facebook account… so chill out.
I don’t think technology is evil at all…. I think it’s incredible! The truth is, all these amazing developments in the flow of information are overwhelmingly adding more to our culture than they’re taking away from it. Having said that… I do believe there is a very real trade-off we’re making for all this instant gratification.
In centuries past, humanity’s greatest thinkers were all gripped by questions that moved them, and filled their imagination….. questions that started with the words “I wonder……”
Newton wondered what caused things to fall to the ground. Galileo wondered if the Earth was perhaps not the center of the universe. Einstein wondered if light and energy could potentially be two forms of the same thing. They all spent time observing the world around them, and their observations eventually led them to ask questions which they were driven to find answers for. Of course, their pursuits of those answers are why they left such a mark on the world as we know it today.
The key here is that each of them spent a great deal of time……. just……… thinking.
It seems as though the sparks of wonder and curiosity tend to creep into our minds gradually….. They find us in long car rides staring out the window, and late night conversations with sympathetic imagineers. They find us in the lazy Sunday afternoons and long walks with the dog. They find us like the sun beginning to burn off the fog at the lakeshore in the early morning hours. Imagination seems to wait for us to stop moving………. and only springs into being when we’re at rest.
The danger with the information we’re bombarded with each day is that it can cause us to never actually be at rest. We’re constantly checking our email, or watching our twitter feeds to see what our friends are doing. We’re checking up on our spouses’ facebook pages to see who they’re befriending and who’s writing on their walls. We’re scanning news websites for news and opinion pieces disguised as news.
Our lives are filled with soundbytes.
These morsels of information satisfy us for only a moment before we’re left looking for the next thing. Smartphones make everything even more accessible. Now we don’t even need a computer. We bring it all with us. When we leave the house, we’re bringing the totality of human history and knowledge along, so long as we have a solid 3g signal.
Again, I’m not bashing any of this. I think it’s amazing…. I simply want to be aware of the things I’m in danger of giving up in return for these incredible abilities.
So, that little rabbit-trail brings me to the main thing I wanted to share….
I’ve made a small social change recently that’s opened my eyes to some of the effects of having an iPhone on me all the time…..
When I go out to lunch or dinner with Jess, my wife, I’ve started leaving my phone in the car. Since I tend to be glued to that little thing, I decided that this was the only way to give her my undivided attention. Really, didn’t think it would change anything, but I was wrong.
The difference was profound. Once I stopped instinctively reaching for it every 60 seconds, I found that I was far more engaged in conversation. I didn’t just listen and respond…. I watched her mouth form words, and found myself interested in the little movements of her face as she spoke. I wanted to know more than what she thought about things, I wanted to know why she thought them, and how she found herself feeling this way, etc.
I felt as though I had been spending most of our time together swimming on the surface of deep lake, without ever realizing how far down it went. It was amazing.
So, while I’m not planning any kind of crusade against technology, I am determined more than ever to prevent it from robbing my life of real depth and wonder. I want to be ready to set it aside at times, and allow myself to be inaccessible to anyone other than the one in front of me.
I plan to remember to sometimes just sit and be…. and let the sparks of wonder and imagination find their way to me.