"TOGETHER ALONE": reflections on a wired world.
Last week my husband and I had the immense pleasure and privilege of attending the 2017 Wanderlust Festival at Turtle Bay, on the world-famous North Shore of Oahu. My expectations were high, but what we experienced last week was above and beyond our wildest hopes and dreams. We did yoga and meditated with world-class instructors, we went horseback-riding on a white-sand beach, we did headstands on Stand-Up Paddleboards, and we even took a (doors-off!) helicopter ride over the island. We laughed, we cried, we danced like no one was watching, and we connected with an incredible community of like-minded individuals.
The biggest takeaway for me though, was coming to peace with a concept that I have been wrestling with for some time now. Over the last decade, and especially in the past year, my growing discomfort with the direction that our culture has been heading in, has left me increasingly unsettled, disjointed and anxious about the future. The exponential escalation of connectivity and the ever-increasing access to technology through computers, social media, and especially our smartphones has completely saturated our cultural consciousness. These devices have not only been practically fused to our bodies, but they have infiltrated our minds, disrupted our sacred spaces, and corrupted our most intimate relationships.
Most of us believe that technology, computers, smartphones, accessibility etc. will improve our lives and make things easier and more efficient, when in actuality, the exact opposite is true. I believe our relationship to technology is in fact the biggest threat to what makes us truly human…the ability to genuinely connect to each other, to be mindful and present, to experience the full spectrum of human emotions, and create and cultivate meaningful relationships.
I am calling this phenomenon “Together Alone,” which is, to me, the greatest tragedy of our modern age….a paradox of connectedness. While the internet and social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, have the ability to “connect” us with hundreds, thousands and even millions of people, the truth is that these “connections” are an illusion. We mindlessly scroll through photos and and videos of friends, acquaintances, relatives and sometimes even strangers or celebrities. Part of us believes that we have somehow experienced our “friends’” joy or pain just by viewing their posts remotely from our devices, but this is not true. This is “virtual reality” in its most deceptive, alienating form. Pressing “Like” on someone’s post or sending a heart or angry-face emoji is NOT the same as giving someone a hug, or wiping away their tears, or laughing with them until your face starts to hurt, or looking at them in the eyes and telling them “I love you.”
“Together Alone” also applies to how, when and where we use our devices. I cannot count the times I have been in a doctor’s waiting room, or in an airport lounge, or even on the schoolyard or at a park, and I look around and EVERYONE is staring down into their precious little screens. The irony is heart-wrenching. All these people are trolling Facebook or Instagram thinking they are catching up with friends and staying “connected,” when in reality, they are completely shutting themselves off to the living, breathing, feeling human beings surrounding them.
I often wonder how we have come to this. How is it easier for people to hide behind their cold, hard screens and cordon themselves off from the warmth and softness of real, human connection? Why is it that when I get in an elevator, the people around me nervously fumble for their phones to look busy, instead of making eye contact with their fellow riders, and God forbid, maybe even saying “Hello!” or “How’s your day going?” How can it be that on a beautiful, sunny day, people walking down the street prefer to stare blankly into their phones, rather than look around them at the flowers and trees and their fellow humans sharing the sidewalk with them. Why was it so hard for the father I observed yesterday at the basketball game to stop playing Candy Crush on his iPad instead of watching his own son play…only feigning interest and glancing up when the rest of the crowd clapped after a basket was made?
I see this happening all around me, and I am sad, angry and TERRIFIED for our future. We have not only forgotten how to connect with each other but we have also lost the ability to just sit with ourselves. Having devices that can literally do anything, at anytime, from anywhere, has made us believe that we MUST be doing something on them all the time, everywhere. This is INSANITY. Ask yourself, when was the last time you just sat somewhere and did NOTHING…just checked in with yourself, and your breath, and see what thoughts come up? This might feel uncomfortable, maybe even scary at first…but believe me, if you want to stay human…this is a skill you need to remember and cultivate before its too late.
When I was in Hawaii last week, I deleted all the applications from my phone and for the past week, I have been using my phone AS A PHONE…like to call people…if I actually need to. Remember what that was like? So far I have not experienced FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or any other type of technology withdrawal. I have, however, experienced some of the following side effects: spontaneous moments of bliss, a subtle expansion of time and space, a profoundly deeper connection to my husband, children, family, students and clients, an unwavering sense of peace and contentment, and a newfound optimism for the future. Sometimes what we are searching for is right there in front of us…you just have to look up (from your screen!), look it it the eye, say hello, and embrace it.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by life, the current state of politics, your job or your relationships, I urge you to do some sort of digital detox. Establish some rules for yourself and create some boundaries between you and your various devices. See if you can dampen out some of the “noise” so you can actually hear your own thoughts and listen to your own inner wisdom. Less swipes, more eye contact. Less selfies, more hugs. Less Live Videos, more coffee dates. Less "likes", more love.
The internet is not going to disappear if you step away for a bit. Take some time to reconnect with the people, places and activities that genuinely bring you joy and make you feel alive. Call an old friend and get together. Invite your neighbors over for dinner. Do something you used to love when you were a kid. Lie down on the grass and stare at the clouds. Daydream. Dance. Make love. Smile.
If this inspired you in any way, perhaps make this your last "share" for a while and come see what its like on the other side.
I look forward to seeing each and every one of you whenever our paths cross again!