Finding stillness in an always connected world

“Here though, there are no oppressors. No one’s forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in… Dubai!”
― Dave Eggers, The Circle

We had a broadband interruption in my house some time ago and my discomfort at the fact of being even temporarily disconnected from the wired up world, prompted me to consider the question of Technology Addiction and the idea of a Tech Sabbath. The challenge is finding stillness in an always connected world. In 1922, The French Jesuit philosopher priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a paleontologist and geologist, referred to the “noosphere”in his theory of cosmogenesis. Just as the Earth has an atmosphere and a biosphere, Teilhard referred to the emerging sphere of interconnected thought as the noosphere. The interconnectivity of our planet in Teilhard’s time was primitive by comparison with the web of communication which encircles the globe today.

This interconnectivity has been a boon to humanity, enabling instant global communications, bringing distant peoples together, and giving us something in the nature of a collective planetary consciousness. The benefits have been immense in terms of world education, disease monitoring, transport control and safety, environmental monitoring, weather forecasting and the instant dissemination of news and ideas.  Social media has given us a planetary awareness of human rights concerns and environmental issues.

The benefits have not been without their downsides, particularly the effect which instant access to, and reliance upon, external global sources of information has had upon our ability to concentrate and remember. A 2012 Pew Internet study in the US suggests that, while students coming through the school system in our always-connected world, benefit from having instant access to a wealth of information from numerous sources, their attention span and desire for in depth analysis is diminished.

“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.”
– Steven Spielberg

While appreciating the benefits of mobile devices (and the benefits far outweigh the downsides) we need to give mindful consideration to the manner in which we put our mobile devices to use, and the habits by which we tend to allow these devices to fill time which would otherwise be available for the increasingly neglected activities of daydreaming, pondering and reflection.

Many of the sentiments of the poem “If” by British Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling, written in 1895 are laudable but the line “if you can fill each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run” seems to have been taken too enthusiastically to heart in the century since its writing, even more so since the advent of the internet and the almost universal availability of mobile technology. We find that inventions which we expected would free up our time have entangled us in a never ending frenzy of activity. Devices connect people umbilically to their work outside traditional working hours and at the same time they create a distracting diversion from real person to person communication when people are in fact physically together.

“Generally we waste our lives, distracted from our true selves, in endless activity. Meditation is the way to bring us back to ourselves, where we can really experience and taste our full being.”
― Sogyal Rinpoche

Can we manage to introduce some order into all of this? What would it be like to go for a day without having your mobile phone with you, or, if it must be with you for emergency use, could it be turned off unless and until an emergency arises?. And could you go comfortably for a day without checking personal email or the social media?  It is not easy when you get used to having a technological umbilical cord.

Going without our mobile devices is easier said than done when these multi purpose devices hold contact information on our friends, keep our appointments, set alarms, keep us entertained, tell us if it will rain, and even give us the real time of arrival of the next bus or train. But the feared loss might be found to be a real gain.

The idea of a Sabbath is well understood in the tradition of the Abrahamic religions. Religious Christians, Jews and Muslims are expected to observe a weekly day of rest. But the idea of a periodic day of rest is not solely the preserve of the monotheistic faiths. Other philosophies and religions recommend and encourage Sabbath. In Buddhism, Sabbath is the Uposatha, The Buddha explained that this day was meant to purify the polluted mind which would in turn lead to inner tranquility and happiness.

“A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the most joyous day of the week.”
― Henry Ward Beecher

Would it be pracical to set side one day a week for a Tech Sabbath. Could we can pick one day (not necessarily the same day) each week when we turn off the technology and reboot our lives (I exclude, of course, technology which we must use during working hours as a necessary part of our employment. It seems we all have to live with that)

If a day without connection seems impossible, how about placing a limit on the nature of the connection. Could we confine the likes of Facebook and Twitter to connections with friends rather than have ourselves inundated with suggestions and ideas from anonymous business and the media?   Could we confine our checking of social media to certain hours?

Could we try this for just one period of one day in the week ahead?

A meaningful life requires time for quiet and meaningful reflection.  It is hard to find that space in an always connected world but we need to make the effort if we are to live lives that are other than superfical and distracted.

I look forward to feedback as to how you get on and how you feel you have benefited from this endeavour!

With metta

Tony

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