A strangely cloaked woman lurked outside the Berkeley workshop, her pinched facial features the only skin visible. She was unable to enter the room until all cell phones were turned off. It took two days before everyone understood that off means off…not mute, not airplane mode. Apparently there are highly sensitive canaries out in our world, people who adversely sense the man-made electromagnetic field (EMF) that has quickly been established on our planet. Without voting on it, without research, without careful consideration…we surrounded ourselves first with electrical wires and now with cell towers. All of this technology emits EMF 24/7 so we can stay 24/7 connected. According to some research, though most of us are symptom free, there are subtle and not so subtle ways our very cell membranes are being altered. This is all so very new, we really have no idea what the implications are, but many people I grew to respect at this conference believe Wi Fi is the new smoking and that in 30-50 years it will no longer be in use. The medical is intriguing, but I’m taking us to the behavioral relationship we have with our devices because that is something we can actually do something about.
Synchronicity had it’s way with me this week. After unwittingly being part of this Berkeley conversation, I came home to attend a yoga retreat I had signed up for two months ago: Unplug! It’s Important. And here I am plugged in, talking to a plugged in-you. Ironic. But I want to meet you where we are and stoke the fire of this conversation…again. Long time readers know I periodically go here. Thank you to Kim Orr and Elan Freydenson for much of the information in this current rant.
If you were born before 2000, you’re an analog native, you grew up relating to information and creating meaning from it in a particular way. Geezers learned to read full sentences, left to right, without interruption. Many of them, one after another. Think book. A skill that grew us into the neural ability to sustain attention. If you were born after 2000 (probably no one reading this!) you’re a digital native. Even an analog native might approach this newsletter like I often do while reaping screen information. Like a digital native. Skimming, scanning, jumping ahead, focusing on the pictures, searching for headlines, sound bytes. If, as a writer, I paid heed to “blogging rules” I would never have more than 3 sentences in a paragraph and, after those three sentences, there would be a picture. This paragraph has ten sentences. How did you take in its meaning?
A fortune has been invested in market research on how to “hook” us with variable stimulation, how to keep us always hunting for the next interesting thing. We are manipulated into craving interruption, literally programmed to feel like we’re missing something if we are undisturbed. Our glands work overtime producing cortisol in response to all this speed and blue light, our plastic neurology is shifting toward inability to sustain attention, these smooth keyboards and touch pads are creating sensori-motor deprivation. Our multi-tasking cheats us from full presence to any one thing. Delayed gratification is a quality of the past. The desire for immediate answers yanks us right out of the beautiful Rilke place of “living the question”? Why bother when Google will tell you.
All of this current reality can add up to a sense of deep dissatisfaction. Young people, digital natives who have no history of anything else, know something is missing, but they don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones? Gordon Ufelt writes about “the pursuit and preservation of proximity”, basic attachment theory. We are a tribal people, we crave connection. Our glands respond to device time more with cortisol and less with the oxytocin hit that actually satisfies the body. We evolved to engage in face to face time, we need to be touched. Screens are not people.
What to do? If we want to pursue vitality and well-being and health—and I assume that about this audience—-an excessive amount of time spent with devices and screens interferes with that intention. Do you care? And what is excessive? The ideal tool to explore (and recover from) our relationship to technology is embodied mindfulness practice. When we raise awareness, behavior change usually follows. Pay attention. It’s all this unconsciousness that keeps us plugged in.
I’ve been paying attention and right now I’ve been relatively divorced for ten days. I feel a lightness, a joy, like something’s happening here and I do know what it is. Sometimes a pervasive sense of restless dissatisfaction settles on me like a fog. It is creeping in right now since this is the longest I have been in front of a screen for a week. I feel the pull to stay. It’s time to take a break and I feel my resistance to that. OK…leaving now, back later…..
O.K. Back for the end. This is an invitation to bring all your developing consciousness to bear on this basic question: what does the digital fix do for me? Can we stay curious and ask this key question as we reach for a device. Does it bridge separation? Does it relieve boredom? Does it make me feel like I am known? Does it answer a question so I can be relieved of (oh no!) not knowing? Is it possible for me to set some small new boundary? What arises when I consider doing that? For me, it is cell phone and computer turned off for stretches of the day and an answering of questions above when I reach to plug back in.
Unplugging…what arises for you?