Searching for Balance in Our Digital World (Part 1)

This is not a call to action. The zealot in me lies dormant today.

This is more of an inquiry. An invitation. An investigation, maybe.

I am imagining life as a train ride through the most beautiful and fascinating and intimate parts of this world. The train can go anywhere, take me to anyplace; under oceans, over mountains, across rivers, through forests, into valleys. The train can show me all of the wonders, all of the mysteries, all of the love that has and does and will ever exist. The train is filled with my loved ones. Joy and peace are at my fingertips. I spend my days in a seat by the window, staring in awe at the wonders we pass, aware that my loved ones have boarded the train and wait in expectation for my invitation to sit down and join me. The train will stop and open it’s doors anytime I ask it to; then I and those with me may explore and feel and smell and drink from the wonders of the world to our hearts’ content before we reboard and continue our journey.

But there is something more. Another ingredient in this picture. There is an alarm, a dinging of sorts, that sounds every minute or five or twenty. It is not uncomfortably loud, by any means, but it is loud enough to break the reverie, to short circuit the ideas that grow in my mind, the wisdom that grows in my heart, the joy and peace that promise to stick around if I will just stay present with them.

The dinging belongs to a device in my hand and a device sitting on the table in front of me and a device that hangs on the wall to my left. The devices each invite me into their own world, worlds that offer me entertainment, humor, knowledge, opportunity and the promise of fame and fortune. Their worlds offer me disconnected connections with billions of people who’s hand I cannot shake, who’s shoulders I cannot hug, who’s physical warmth I cannot feel, who will never eat at my table or share my bed or sit at my bedside when I am sick or depressed or dying. And every time I enter the world of these devices, time speeds up, the train, on the tracks of time, moves just a little bit faster.

Maybe it was forgetting my phone at home on Memorial Day while we swam and kayaked and picnicked at the river.

Maybe it was watching the old man who sat beside me at Panera with nothing in his hand but a bagel, with nothing to occupy his attention but the sights and tastes and sounds and people that surrounded him in that place.

Maybe it was watching the mom at the playground who never took her eyes off of the screen in her hand while her two young children played around her, holding her leg, holding her hand, looking into her eyes while her eyes looked into her screen.

Maybe it was watching all of the families silently sitting around tables at restaurants, each with their own device in their hand or their lap or on the table in front of them.

Maybe it was watching the fans in the front row at the LP concert who held phones in front of their faces through the entire concert and who forgot to look at LP’s face when she leaned over to grasp their hand.

Maybe it was talking to a friend about their recent six month hiatus from social media.

Maybe it was talking to another friend about all they are contemplating…screenless Saturdays, and the idea that all our children really need from us is our time, our touch, our eyes.

Maybe it was talking to a loved one about their addiction and in light of that conversation, being unable to ignore my own.

Maybe it was talking to a loved one about the book they are reading and the realization that all we really have is now because nothing else actually exists, no other time and place actually exist.

Maybe it was hearing my children say the words, Mom is on her phone, one too many times.

Maybe it was hearing the voice in my head increase in volume, the voice that whispers, you are missing it, you are missing it, you are missing your life.

Maybe it was leaving my phone behind last night while my family and dozens of friends gathered for a farewell party for some of my dearest friends.

Maybe it was the thoughts that swirled through my mind after purposefully leaving my phone at home this morning while Chaz and the kids and I had a “secret Saturday” outing to Barb-B-Cutie and a spy store and used bookstore in historical downtown Franklin.

Maybe it is the growing sense of inexplicable dread that has been growing in my belly and the gnawing feeling that I will regret all I missed once my babies are older.

I don’t know how many parts this will become…two…four…ten? I don’t have a clear vision for all this inquiry might include.

And I certainly don’t mean to dramatize this issue that is really only an issue because our wealth and privilege allow it to be. I know this is a first world problem.

But I live in the first world. And for me, for my mind and my heart and my family and my life, this new digital reality has very much become a problem.

I don’t know if this inquiry will lead me to answers. But in the words of Lloyd Alexander,

We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.

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