Ever since the new year began, I’ve caught myself looking back on previous years and our current state as a society. How did we get here? By and large, we are now living in a consumer-heavy culture. A people group obsessed with saturating our minds with information, always needing to be connected via social networks, news outlets and, in general, the world wide web. It’s so much different than things were even just 10 years ago! For a while now I’ve romanticized the “good old days” when things seemed simpler and more genuine, especially when it comes to music. Last year I really got into collecting CDs, cassettes and vinyl; any physical form of music I could get my hands on, really. Part of this was for the collectible aspect, sure, but the bigger reason was I felt an emotional connection to music again. I became passionate about something that, for the longest time, I sort of had let become “just a part of life.” Music had become something I took for granted.
It’s incredibly easy to take things for granted in a day and age where we now have a high expectation for convenience. Technology has brought us closer together and has made everything – viewing movies, shopping, catching the news, even the productivity of our jobs – faster and more instantaneous. The expectation now is that we can have something now. You want that new kitchen gadget? Amazon Prime lets you have it in what seems like less than a day. Want to watch your favorite TV show? You can binge the entire show on Netflix; no more having to wait to catch each episode once a week. Need to make yourself current with the world news? Just scroll through Facebook’s news feed to get biased snippets.
Every time I go to church or stop at a restaurant or really just any public setting, I see several people with a smart phone in hand, fiddling with whatever they feel needs their attention. It’s fascinating just how inseparable we’ve become to arguably the most important possession one can own. Most folks carry their banking information, credit cards, personal contacts, social media access, and more on a smartphone. It’s almost equivalent to having a digital social security card; phones have become the essence of our identity simply because it is the gateway to our lives online. Life is always on the move, so naturally you should have a smart device with you on the go so you can access anything instantly. Now, listen, I’m not excluding myself from this information-hungry culture; I’m probably as worse an offender you’ll ever meet. But especially once we crossed into 2017, I really started to become self-aware of what feels like a growing problem in the current era: Our constant connection to everyone has made us disconnected from one another.
Years ago I used to have a lot of difficulty making connections on a personal level with my peers, especially during my high school days. Part of this was how I was raised, another part was just my personality, and another was just simply not fully understanding the subtlety of human interaction. Nowadays interacting with others feels a bit more second-nature, but I’ve still felt something is missing. There’s a sense of genuine care that I feel is gone when I talk to certain (not all) people, as if they’re disinterested in what I’m saying or their mind is on other matters completely. Again, that isn’t to say I’m not guilty of this either; I think we all at times deal with distractions either from within our own mind or physical distractions in our environment. But smartphones in particular I’ve felt are contributing greatly to this idea of being distracted in the real world. I’ve realized even in myself that I will pull my phone out at work and check Facebook, close the app, open Twitter, close the app, and *immediately* open Facebook again! I’m specifically looking for a distraction to keep my mind occupied, and there’s nothing more engaging than a giant slab of glass that lights up and crams information in my eyes. It’s become habitual to the point that even when I’m right in the middle of an environment where I should give my fullest attention – church, for example – I will pull out my phone not because I necessarily want to, but out of force of habit. It’s indicative of a world that is obsessed with experiencing new information, reading more facts to hurl at one another, seeing another meme or reaction video, or checking to see if our Like-counter has gone up in the last 5 minutes.
I recently listened to an interview with frontman for the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach, where he talked about how smartphones are impacting the world we live in. Much like myself, he’s an old soul, and that’s something I can always respect. He said something he’s noticed is that 10 years ago when he was performing at a concert, people would reach out and try and touch him. Nowadays, people reach out with their phones instead to take a picture or a video. I’m guilty of this too; I’ve actually caught myself at a concert taking a video and watching the concert through the screen of my phone instead of what’s actually in front of my face! What a perfect visual analogy for how we’re experiencing life: through the filter of information and technology instead of seeing one another face to face.
What is so important about our lives that we have to have things instantaneously? What happened to our level of patience where waiting 2 weeks for a package was perfectly acceptable? Or watching the 60-minute news reel was normal and brought you up to speed on things maybe you weren’t even concerned with? Do we get together with a friend to share a selfie and show that yes indeed we really were with that person, all the while wondering how many likes we’re going to collect? Do we really need to watch that next Jimmy Fallon clip while we do our grocery shopping? I’m not so sure I want it anymore. This year my focus is going to continue on making real connections with the people around. I’ve decided that on my personal journey, I am going to detox my addiction to always needing to be connected by kicking my smartphone to the curb in favor of a more simplified routine. I’m very curious how much time and attention to the world around me I will gain by making this minor change to my daily life. Of course, I’ll still have my Macbook at home and music in my car and I’ll still answer texts. But I think it’s about time I disconnect.