Six or seven years ago, I would organize birthday parties for my little brother. Towards the end, after cake and musical chairs, we would all be tired out and I would put on a movie and we would settle down to watch it in silence. They used to sit captivated by the television. But it’s not nearly so easy to entertain children anymore. Whenever I look over at my ten year old brother watching TV now, he is almost always playing a game on his iPod simultaneously.
There is an ever-present and increasing need for stimulation. We can’t even watch a movie if the shots are longer than a few seconds. Gone are the days when people could ride the subway alone without music or an app game. Even if it is mindless entertainment, it is as if we have forgotten how to just pause. I have heard countless justifications for this, namely “I like to stay informed/connected,” or “there’s nothing better to do.” My personal excuse is “this is all work related.” I like to think I’m better at unplugging than most people, but I can be just as guilty of scrolling through Facebook without purpose or checking my phone during class.
I am not against technology. I don’t know what I would do without it and I love the ease of connection that it allows. But I have a few significant problems with what this phenomenon has become.
The first is that I have always put a lot of value into putting all of yourself into whatever you do, to experience everything with all of your heart, soul, and mind. I am very opposed to doing things halfway and going through life staring at a screen means that some things will inevitably be experienced halfway. Think about it: people pay money to see concerts live and yet how many experience it through a lens anyway? Most people think they are good at multi-tasking nowadays (“I’m still aware of everything that happens around me when I’m staring at my screen”; “I can still do my homework and watch TV and text 3 people at once”). But while this may be true to a certain extent, it is logistically impossible to do all these things well. Studies have shown that people who claim to be good at multi-tasking are actually more prone to making mistakes under pressure. They have more difficulties focusing and many things are unconsciously missed, like social cues.
Speaking of social cues, I don’t take kindly to being held second to a social media newsfeed. I understand that some messages need immediate attention (so please ask for a moment instead of pretending to half-heartedly keep up the conversation), but it is insulting to meet up with someone in person and feel as though my company is less interesting and less worthy of attention than a newsfeed. Even when there are lulls in conversation, it’s okay to just pause and let things sink in. Nothing ever sinks in deep anymore because we are all so turned off by the quiet, and instantly reach out for a distraction the moment we feel ourselves looking around aimlessly. Is it really more interesting to pop bubble wrap on your phone than to observe people on the subway?
We have lost the ability to take a breath. Everything is always touch and go. Our world is all about speed and efficiency, which is good as long we also have balance. There is not nearly enough balance. As someone who is always busy and compulsive about being productive and making progress, this is hard for me to accept. But I have found that it crucial to allow my mind to settle down, really take things in, and cease living in a constant storm.
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand . . .” – Thoreau