"I'm good at Multi-tasking", has become a modern euphemism for "Delusions have made my carelessness measurable."
Last year I made the hard decision of purchasing my first smart phone. The Pros ended up out-weighting the Cons, like having something better to read while seated on the toilet other than shampoo bottle instructions. But deep down, I knew I was giving up something invaluable the moment I bought it; my space for tranquility and depth of thought in solitude.
In the 1980's, futurist Alvin Toffler coined the term "Information Overload" in his book Future Shock predicting where technology was heading in our society. According to a San Diego University study, the average American citizen today is bombarded with 100,500 words and digests around 12 hours of information and media every single day.
And if you think about it, 12 hours isn't so much of an exaggeration. With notifications, emails, texts, voicemails, "likes", instagram pictures and tweets, comments, tags and posts, as well as, photos, videos, headlines, blogs, subscriptions, downloads, uploads,ads, ringtones, mp3's, apps, games, usernames, passwords, captchas, folders, files, feeds, searches and poke's ... it's hardly surprising why we're always so busy.
Saturate My Senses
We live in an extrospective society, one that thinks happiness is found in the outside world. We tend to believe wholeheartedly that the more we cram every living moment with outside sources of enjoyment, excitement and pleasure, the more we we're living.
Life is often thought in outward terms, as a series of events that unfolds in the physical world that we all inhabit. However, we experience all these events that happen in life inwardly through our thoughts and feelings. This is the reality for each of us.
We are the surround-sound generation with 1,000 channels. We want to feel everything all the time. A walk through the park isn't just a walk anymore, it's a music concerto with our ipod, while feasting on a burger, and a work-out as well, with our electronic heart-monitors, all while admiring the passing carnival of humanity.
Creativity and thought has become subservient to the singular ambition of saturating our senses. Stimulation has become the new world order. Depth of focus is obsolete.
It's Not The Quantity, But The Depth
The irony of our times is that we have more "friends" and know more about their activities and interests than ever ... by spending less time with them.
We are also more than ever proficient through technology. But we achieve much more by superficially immersing ourselves in every activity we do, by dividing our attention and focus. Take me as an example. During the writing of this article I've digressed in checking my emails, watching 5 videos, buying a book and learning that Google is planning to set up a free global WiFi network!
When I go out on walks I don't feel that peacefulness and thrill of solitude anymore. I come across a beautiful bird and immediately I feel like "possessing" that moment for later. I pull out my phone to take a photo, and begin to feel the anxiety that any sudden movements might frighten it away. I give up the chance of being entirely and absorbingly present in that moment, in exchange for the anxiety of admiring a photo of it in the future.
I continue my walk and feel my phone vibrating. It's a notification that either someone has recommended a movie to me, or I received a comment or "like" online, I have an overdue bill, someone just had a baby, a tsunami just killed hundreds in South Asia, or my uncle is getting a Colonoscopy. Perhaps you have realized this before, but all of these distractions are impediments to the ability to immerse ourselves in each place we find ourselves in.
But worst of all, technology takes away from us the one thing we require the most for depth of thought and creativity: aloneness. I've felt so many times as though I'm taking the whole world with me when I carry my phone. There's never any time or space away from our daily business anymore.
Respite From Technology
The other day I saw a man talking in a public phone booth. It is such a rare thing that all I could assume was that he was being told where to drop off the ransom money.
We keep upgrading software and finding faster ways to download. Unknowingly, as we increase the intensity of our ties to other people we are cementing the bars to our own technological prisons. The more connected we are, the more we depend on the world outside ourselves to tell us how to think and live.
The more we depend on technology and live our lives absorbed in it's brightly alluring screens, the more fearful we become as well. Just think of all the hundreds of stories of murders, suicides, rapes, mass casualties, abuses, tortures and other horrific stories that we let into our lounge rooms and bedrooms on a daily basis. All of this violence takes it's toll on us.
It's easy to blame all this on all of our tools. I'm not trying to say that technology is the spawn of Satan - technology makes our lives much more convenient and pleasurable. It's not technology that is at fault, instead, everything began with the simple goal of keeping "in touch" with everything and everyone. With our constant desire for extrospective stimulation we've turned that into "never being out of touch", making our every day feel more frantic and rushed.
This need to "never be out of touch" has been attributed by psychologists, to conditions like attention deficit disorder. It has been the cause of Nomophobia, which is "the fear of being out of mobile phone contact". The need to never be out of touch is so great, that around the world rehabilitation centres have been opened for technologically addicted children.
In my opinion, creativity and depth of thought has highly been affected by the need to never be out of touch as well. Just look at modern day children, supposedly the most creative beings there are. They rarely go on lavish imaginary adventures anymore, or sit down to make figurines out of popsicle sticks, or make their own hand-drawn comic books. To them, as well as us, reality seems too silent, too frustratingly inert and non-interactive. The sense of wonder and mystery is being lost.
Sure, many solutions have been proposed . There's software like Inbox Pause that puts your messages on hold. There are other services that limit the amount of time you spend online, or block every ad and piece of jargon around the contents of a webpage.
But the more we connect through technology, the more our thoughts lean outwards. What makes life meaningful is your inner feelings, your passions, your dreams and to cultivate those you require introspection, deep mental focus and self-discovery.
Technology brings the burden that anyone, any information, anywhere is always within reach. This makes you feel that you should be taking advantage of all the information, and that you should fill your time with as much stimulation as you can.
I hope some of you feel a desire to be away from the tumult of the technological crowd the same way I do. In order to fully enjoy technology, it would be a wise idea to learn to cultivate time disconnected away from the eternal cyber buzz around us.
If there's anything that I've learnt, it's that only when you learn to be comfortable with your solitude, without the need of stimulation, will you become inwardly content. When you drop the need for others and other things to stimulate you, you can then develop the ability to think of other people with more care and interest. It's not about what they can provide for you anymore. In the comfort of your aloneness, you can ask yourself instead: What can I provide them?
Try taking some time out to put some space between yourself and the cyber crowd, otherwise you might get lost in the Technological Labyrinth.
Photo by: Alexander Rentsch