We live in a noisy world. Noisy on so many levels. In our data-driven society, it is hard to get away from information, whether we want it or not. The ability to be quiet, within
Choosing to be still is not easy. The urge to check email, twitter, Facebook, the news, is an internal battle that many of us rage all day long. I read recently that a large percentage of Americans check their phones before they even get out of bed. I am one of those people. Some people sleep with their phones in their hands. I don’t do that, but my phone is close by, charging up for another day of data infusion and information overload.
The urge to be “connected” to what is happening in the world is addictive. I’m not sure what we think we will miss if we go out and leave our phones at home. I’m sure if you have ever left your phone at home accidentally, you felt naked and vulnerable the entire time you were apart. What if someone is trying to reach you or there is an emergency? Those are the excuses we tell ourselves to justify our obsession with our phones. But it really hasn’t been that many years since we all had land lines and went about our day without being constantly reachable and the world kept turning and we didn’t know that we were at risk of calamity at every turn.We should ask ourselves, why in the world do we want to be reachable 24/7? Being so available has not reduced the stress in our lives and, in fact, it has raised everyone’s expectations about how quickly we can be expected to respond to a request.
When my kids were young, we would agree that I would pick them up from an event at a particular time–say 5:30pm. I knew how to budget my time so that I could use it productively until it was time to go. Once my kids got cell phones, I was “on-call,” and dare not get too deeply involved in a project in case I had to drop everything and pick up a daughter. The difference, besides being on-call, is that my kids got used to not taking my time into account. If they were having fun, hanging around with teammates after a game, or whatever, they called when they were ready to get picked up and they knew that I would come when they called. And I did.
Some would argue that it is good to be able to reach your kids and know where they are. That’s true–if they pick up your call and it doesn’t go to voice mail. Or maybe you have evolved into a texting family? No actual talking on the phone, just texting? I heard about a teenager whose voice mail message said, “hang up and text me.” That’s often the message anyway, whether it is stated or not.
As for social media, I admit I do enjoy much of it. It is nice to be able to look up random facts, movie times, check the headlines, or tweet something profound (of course!) from wherever I am. (I notice that I am on my computer less, now that my phone IS a computer.) Our phones keep us entertained while we are waiting. Unfortunately, our phones sometimes replace having conversations with real people, or noticing the physical world around us, or remembering to take a book along to the doctor’s office that we’ve been wanting to read. It always makes me feel sad to see a group of people, like a family, out for dinner and everyone is looking down at their phones, deeply engaged in something there. We’re all at least a little guilty, but is this how we want to live? Is the digital world more interesting than our own lives? Maybe we use it as a distraction from having to deal with the people and the things in our lives that need our attention.
Next week, my husband and I are going on a short vacation to a place in the mountains where there is no TV, no internet and cell phone connections are not reliable. We are so excited. I think part of the reason is that it will remove the sense of obligation to be connected and available to everyone and we will can enjoy the silence around us and within us. I really do miss feeling free of my phone, and free from knowing the latest political rumors, or celebrity gossip. So much of what I encounter via my smart phone has very little to do with my life–the one right in front of me. Not that smart, really.
I think I remember how to do this–live off of the information grid, as it were. I’ll let you know how it goes.