“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify….” –-Thoreau
My quiet little life of writing and drinking too much tea has lately given way to a crash course in social media as I prepare to move my book into the public eye. While I love being in the middle of a creative blitz, the cramming of technology as a second language (TSL) has me feeling slightly stupid, excessively amped and generally off-kilter.
I railed against “social media” for as long as I could. I hate the word “blog.” I avoided and poo-pooed it all as utterly unnecessary until I finally acquiesced to the reality that it is, in fact, utterly necessary–if I’d like to publish a book, which I would.
I’m no Luddite; I went through graduate school using a typewriter, and I’ll be the first to say that writing on a computer is vastly preferential. I also own an iPhone and an iPad (Steve Jobs having had the brilliance not only to create these clever gadgets, but to create a culture of iWant and iNeed to buy them), but I am not in thrall to them. As with most things, I believe computer technology has its place and value, but I want it to be my tool, not the other way around. I am concerned that as a society we are as much consumed as consumers.
A techie friend of mine recently mentioned that he doesn’t want to buy a smart phone because everyone that owns one is glued to it, and he’s mostly right. There is a sign on the gate of my son’s elementary school that reads: “Please disconnect from your phone before you reconnect with your child.” The first time I saw this, I stood in disbelief and close to tears. The fact that parents must be reminded to pay attention to their child is, frankly, obscene.
A lack of consciousness about our consumption of technology leads down a captivating but dangerous road. Lured by amazing, fun and even useful applications we can, without being aware of it, lose what Mary Oliver calls our “wild and precious life.” It becomes an unconscious habit to have phone in hand or bluetooth attached to head at all times: cell phones are the new binkies. When and why did constant contact and the relaying of every thought become so urgently necessary?
An over-reliance on technology can wear away our ability to think creatively, to wonder, to muse, to be present and receptive. As a person of words, I find, for example, a huge difference between looking something up in a dictionary and looking it up on Wikipedia: the former tends, as often as not, to take me on an etymological journey, perusing other words, following a meaningful meander. It’s a sensual and soulful exercise not found in the expedient, quick–and often incomplete or wrong–answer. And there is a huge difference between my children playing Angry Birds and playing catch, or entering the magical realm of imaginary play. It’s a difference that is real and physical as well as mental and spiritual. It’s the difference between inhaling a Big Mac or enjoying a home-cooked meal.
There was an uprising in the late eighties that called itself the Slow Food movement. It was a response to our burgeoning fast-food culture, taking a stand against bland conformity, speed over quality, and the blanding-down of our taste buds. It questioned food being reduced to something you “do” while doing something else and returned it to it’s rightful place as not just a necessity of life, but a sensual experience that connects us to the earth, our senses and one another.
I’d like to expand the notion of Slow Food to Slow Living, a response to the incessant push for new and more and faster. Slow living embraces the sensuality, the soul, of daily life. The faster our technological speed, the more out of touch we become with these intangible essentials and the more impoverished we are as people and as a culture.
Many religions (used to) incorporate a day of rest into their week, a day set apart to reconnect, reflect and actually rest. Doing this created sacred space. Where there is silence and space the unexpected can arise, unhindered by the noise of daily busyness. We need that sort of space: otherwise one day is like the next, nothing is sacred, and there is no room for the breath of creative inspiration. Life becomes a blur of mundane ordinariness.
Our technological speed, dependence and addiction takes it’s toll not just on our emotional and spiritual selves, but on our minds and bodies. Even if you love all things digital, it is a fact that the speed and rapidity of technology accelerates our brains and hormonal activity, rewiring and acclimating us to abnormal speed and hence, abnormal stress. It is impossible to keep up with the pace of tech development, but the unholy alliance of tech and a capitalist economy pushes us to do just that. We can’t keep up, and trying to do so wears us down. It doesn’t take a leap in cognition to understand why depression and adrenal fatigue are this culture’s diseases du jour.
It is a great irony that the same technologies that can ease our lives and bring us closer together manage to consume our lives and distance us from real contact: we want to be in constant touch but alone, with our phone, texting. We have forgotten how to be, much less be with, so distracted and beguiled and addicted are we to that little shiny screen. High-tech and low-touch, our sensual, animal selves waste away.
Join me, then, in my Slow Living movement. Leave your phone at home (yes, you can do it) and get outside. Stare at a flower; wonder at it’s perfect design. Watch your child play without having to take a video and post it to YouTube. If you can’t leave your smartie-pants phone at home for an hour to take a walk or enjoy time with a friend–my friend, you have a problem. You may need to check into the rehab I’m going to create for the over-stimulated, a place to enjoy the pleasures of being rather than doing, a place where you remember how to see and feel and wonder and reflect.
Open the margins of your life and see what’s waiting there. It won’t wait forever, you know. This day, as my mother used to remind me, will never come again.