Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I Believe in Unplugging

I believe in being present. Every day my life gets a little more informed by technology. My average evening, after my daughters have run off to bed, usually involves smart phones, tablet computers, Netflix, Youtube, with a smattering of discussion thrown in. I read what my friends have written on Facebook, I check email, I glance through news stories, play scrabble against my mom 2,500 miles away, and give small, uttered sentences to my wife as an offering to show I’m still there. She looks through knitting patterns, posts on Facebook, plays Scrabble with friends a thousand miles away and with me just a few feet away, checks the weather, and pages through a million baby pictures of people she’s never met but whom she has a relationship.

Somewhere in the middle, we do trade thoughts about the day, about the next day, about behavior patterns of kids, career aspirations, and the kind of thing that couples more normally talk about. But it seldom feels like the priority.

There are holy times, when technology isn’t allowed. If one of us has a phone beep or buzz while we’re eating dinner, the other one chastises any motion to answer its insidious call. When we read to our daughters, the Facebook apps are put down and attention is drawn directly on the book, on the child, on the story, on the moment. It’s these times that seem more palpable—that pass with just a bit of sadness to their passing.

It seems hard now to remember what it was like before, but it wasn’t that long ago. Even watching TV used to entail more thought than paging through a million sources of information all at once. Dinner conversations haven’t changed much since my childhood, but living room conversations sure have. The unification of the world in the palm of my hand usually turns my brain off—something I value at the end of a long day. But somehow, it leaves the stress on. I feel like, in some strange sense, I’m being productive when I’m in contact, I’m not putting work off. I’m accessible. Isn’t there value in that? When’s the last time I sat down and played Scrabble with my mom?

But I believe in turning it off. I believe in feeling yourself within your own flesh and knowing that for that particular moment, you are sitting right there. I believe in listening to a piece of music without further distraction and letting it in, letting it get to you, letting yourself know a different part of you. I believe in looking at a piece of art and attempting to feel it in different ways. I believe in reading a story and watching a world you have never touched come to brilliant life.
The world as we know it is a series of blips in our brains. Is it not amazing enough to capture our attention and invite us to live in it? Is it so much more appealing to have it folded up and predigested?

I wonder what effect all of this intrusion of technology on solitary moments will have on our children. Their childhood is recognizable to our own. They will live half of their lives disembodied and the fact is that we just don't know what that means! Turning off the addiction is something I believe in, but it's something that's hard to do at the end of a long day.

Actions speak louder than thought. Each breath passes once. I try not to miss it.

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