As I mentioned in the last post, over the next few months, I will be looking at the hidden dangers of our new technology and what all this information and technology is doing to our minds, our hearts and our spirit. Many people in my psychotherapy practice talk about not being truly in their lives, feeling that they are just a step outside of what is happening to them, as if they can’t get inside their own experience. People in our society feel as if they are living through a narrator and can’t break through the veil that separates them from their own life. The reasons for this pervasive feeling are manifold and yet there is a common theme that runs throughout. We are constantly trying to solidify our experience, to pin it down and make it lasting. We reject the truth that experience is forever in flux, that it comes and goes and lives and dies with each moment. Rather than living our experience while it is happening, we are busy narrating our experience to ourselves in order to be able to relay it later, to communicate it, to have it in some kind of structure. The moment is not lived so much as it is organized and described. The idea is that once our mind has pinned down our experience, it can and will be lived later (when it is not happening). In this system, it is our mind that is doing the living for us. Our mind enters each new moment with the objective to organize and put language around what is happening. As a result, we end up with a lot of descriptions of our life, but without a sense of having lived it. In short, we send in a reporter to report to us on our life, in place of our getting to walk through it ourselves. We hear about the dance but we don’t actually get to dance. At the end of the day, there is some I that does not live. So… what does all this have to do with technology? Technology is strengthening our already prevalent tendency to live through the reporter, the mind, the organizer of our life and thus, to intensify the distance between us and our experience. When I attend my daughters’ events: plays, dance recitals, concerts etc., more than half of the parents are watching/participating in the experience through their smart phones. They are recording the event so as to have it, to own it as something solid, to be enjoyed and experienced… later, not now. Technology is encouraging us to live through the veil of our internal reporter, to use the moment when life is happening to record it, possess it, make sure that we have it forever. But sadly, when experience is lived through the internal reporter, we never get to have it, to feel like it is ours, cellularly, because we never really lived it, not when it was alive. We weren’t there for it, in it, and being in it is the prerequisite for feeling like we are living life. When we record our life through technology, we have a life technologically, but the felt sense is of not having a life. We show off our pictures but internally we feel hollow, as if we ourselves missed out on the the experience. So everyone else gets to enjoy it, but what about us? With internal ownership of our life, we may not get to display anything later to our friends, to show off our life, but who we are changes as a result of being there for our life as it is happening. When we live life through our technological reporter, we accept and even choose what is so much a lesser prize, the safe and unsatisfying route. We capture our experience for a kind of pseudo ownership, in form only. We have our life in our iphoto file, but we don’t have it inside our own being. It’s a paltry substitute, to have our life on file, as it can never wield the weight and meaning that comes from living it directly, actually feeling our life as it unfolds. So what are we most afraid of? I suppose at the bottom of all of it is the fear that if we show up for our life, we will be in it as it happens, and then what? What will happen when the experience is over, in the death of the experience? The fear is that we will have to move on, to let go of our experience, to give it up, as beautiful or terrible as it was. We will have to surrender to the ever changing stream that is life. Without our mind continually organizing and recording our life, in a sense–creating rocks to hold onto in the stream, we will have to let go and enter each new experience as it arises. This is the fear: to let life give birth and pass away, to keep changing without trying to stop it or make it stay still. We are not trained in this kind of living and so we keep trying to hold onto something, to solidify what not solid. What becomes fixed then is the reporter, the recorder, the method through which we are organizing our experience. This becomes our ground and our safe haven, but one that comes at a tremendous cost to our spirit and the experience of being human.
There is yet another frightening downside to technology becoming the filter through which our experience is experienced. These parents behind their smart phones are undoubtedly having an experience while they are filming their children: they are turning knobs, adjusting locations, playing with angles, hanging from rafters. It’s just that the direct experience is with their technology and not with their child or themselves. The medium through which they are experiencing their life has changed their experience. The recorder has become the recorded. The technology that at first separated us from life has become our life. It is not appropriate any longer to say that we are so busy recording our lives that we have stopped living them. Ever more frighteningly, the fleeting memory of a life that was even worth recording (to say nothing of living) is disappearing rapidly. If the original problem was that we were becoming disconnected from our own experience of life, technology has pushed us so that we are now two steps away from the original problem. We are back into a direct experience of sorts, but it was not the direct experience that we so craved nor the one that in any way nourishes our spirit.
Over the next series of months I will be blogging about technology and the less obvious dangers of this age of infinite, immediate and unrelenting information. Recently i have been reading articles and blogs that sing the benefits of having so much information/technology at our hands. As one blogger confided, whenever you want it whatever you want, it’s like being a crack addict in a crack den, but it’s crack that’s good for you. In one article about the wonder of the app store, the author, a father of three, talked about trying to build a campfire with his kids, and when the fire would not start, quickly finding an app that explained how to make the the flame catch (for which he was deemed wonder dad). On the same camping trip, he reported being impressed by his own ability to use technology to splice together pictures of himself as a boy doing the same activities that his own children were engaging in right in front of him (which he watched through his smart phone lens). In another blog about summertime, the author boasts how, on a rainy day, she quickly called up an app that delivered the top dozen creative games to play with kids when weather strikes. Yet another talked of being a hero to his daughter because he used his iphone to save the day when his daughter got stuck on her prized landyerd weaving. The list of miracles that the internet is credited with accomplishing is endless and includes more obvious ones as well, for example, being able to find out exactly what to do when you are in a new summer town, and luckily, to be able to complete all of it without having to do any of the exploring yourself.
While there is no question that it is helpful to know how to get beet juice out of a pair of pants before the stain takes hold, there is undoubtedly a huge downside to being able to access this glut of information at every moment. It does something to our brains and our consciousness as a whole when we can find out anything we need to know without having to think, imagine, remember or create. Before this boom in information technology, if we didn’t know how to do something that we wanted to do, we figured something out. We found a way to light the fire. It might not have been Google or Wikipedia’s way, but we made it work. The smores got eaten. Or, if we could not tackle the challenge, we came up with something else to do. Figuring it out or inventing a new plan–both are creative endeavors. Before we had all this information at our finger tips, we used our own minds. We thought, we imagined, we problem-solved, we invented. When we sat still and faced the fact that we didn’t know something, we were effectively giving our mind the chance to work and thereby, to stretch and grow. The experience of not knowing is a powerful and deeply beneficial exercise for the mind–perhaps the most important for both children and adults. Being without information forces us to germinate in a kind of fertile ground, the ground of potential. The ground from which we grow and evolve. The ground from which new ideas are born. Day after day, stuffing ourselves with answers, we turn our minds into flabby, sedated slobs–bloated, depressed and inert, like handcuffing an Olympic athlete to the refrigerator. Sadly, in so doing, we are literally depriving our mind of its ability and its right to exercise, to do what it is designed to do, what it loves to do. To think! While it may be fun to be able to find out anything that we want at any time, it is not good for us, and not good for the evolution of our brains or our spirits. It makes things easier, but easier is not always better.