Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life? ~Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
My husband and I were recently having dinner at a lovely, intimate restaurant. Seated next to us was a forty-something couple in the early stages of love. They were leaning in and smiling, holding hands the way you do in the early days of romance. Then I noticed the phone in his right hand. He stared at something intently. I glanced at the woman. She was staring down at her phone, upon which she was engrossed in a Google search.
Welcome to love in 2011. While I obviously saw the humor in this scene (and if you don’t, you have a problem), I was also dismayed. It confirmed my worst suspicion: that intimacy has gone the way of L.P.’s, typewriters and beehive hairdo’s. I am sad. But more than this, I am deeply concerned.
It led me to think about the movie WALL-E in which all the humans have fled to an enormous spaceship, having destroyed the earth. Over time, the humans have devolved into literal blobs: boneless, inactive, constantly consuming, video-addicted, obese blobs who travel around on motorized chairs, big gulps in hand, glued to their video screens and oblivious to the other people cruising right beside them. At one point, two of the blobs get knocked out of their chairs and face one another, stunned and speechless: they are at a complete loss as to how to actually be with one another.
I find it bizarrely intriguing that we have become so addicted to being connected to everyone and everything all the time that we are losing our connection with the here and now. We are choosing virtual intimacy at the cost of real, tangible intimacy. I’ve watched people conduct entire transactions with another person and not look at them or speak with them once, because they are talking on their phone. I’ve watched people carry on long phone conversations while the person with them sits and stares blankly at the table.
What does it say to someone that they do not warrant your full attention? What does it say to the person sitting with you that you are willing to interrupt your conversation to answer every ring? Let’s be honest: unless you are anticipating a call from the Nobel Committee at any moment, there’s no reason not to turn off the phone. Such narcissistic behavior–and that is what it is–is disrespectful and dehumanizing. And the disrespect is exponential. In the service of being constantly “in touch” (a misnomer if ever there was one) we destroy other people’s chance for an intimate experience by subjecting everyone around us to our “intimate” conversations.
Big deal, you say. Well, it is a big deal. It’s a big fat deal and I’ll tell you why. Distraction and diversion are death to intimacy, both with self and others, and the death of intimacy means the loss of a meaningful life. Our perpetual, largely vacuous busyness leads us away from our Selves, with a capital “S.”
Our lives are easily frittered away in meaningless beguilement, a word that means both to divert and to mislead. We are being diverted and led away from what is most urgent and important, which is a meaningful relationship with living, breathing, animated life.
Just to be clear, I’m not bashing technology. I own both an iphone and a laptop. I like them. Used consciously these technologies are incredible tools. Used unconsciously they can suck up time like a black hole. And time, as far as I am aware, is something none of us have a lot of–certainly none to waste. Filling up time and space with perpetual messaging, gaming, surfing and chatting is waste of a life. It’s the equivalent of eating potato chips and a coke and calling it a meal.
We are, I fear, in the precarious position of gaining the world and losing our individual and collective soul. The torrent of transient and vacuous information sweeping over us threatens our soulful evolution. It diverts and misleads us away from what is urgent and precious within. It homogenizes us, when what we are here to do is differentiate; to find our unique voice, to manifest our particular Self.
But to find your voice you must be able to hear it over the din and the distraction of the shiny lure of technology. Only in an atmosphere of quiet intimacy–with our Selves or Nature or another–do we find the real stuff of life: compassion, peace, insight, perspective, understanding, beauty, truth, wisdom and love. And it is then, and only then, that our lives become truly meaningful.
We have such a small window in which to make this brief existence of ours rich and meaningful. Each moment is an opportunity to be intimate with life, to be receptive, to lean into the quiet whispers and intimate secrets that inspire and transform us.
It is easy to be caught and consumed like a hapless fly in the world wide web. Before you know it, hours can pass; maybe even your life. Before you know it, the date is over, your child has abandoned her creative enterprise, your friend has forgotten what it was they wanted to say, something of beauty went unseen and you…well, you have just lost something precious and unrepeatable. You have lost an irreplaceable moment of potential and possibility. You have lost a little bit of your life.
Which brings me back to that couple in the restaurant. The opportunity for real intimacy was right there. It was offering itself to them. Life is always offering itself to us, but we have to be open and available to receive it. I looked back at my husband, smiled, and turned off my phone. My wild and precious life was calling.