I looked in on my 27-year-old son one evening. He lives in a cave we call his office with two huge computer monitors (one is his 52-inch flat-screen TV), a tower PC, a server, a laptop, a smart phone, and now a Nexus 7. He wears gaming headphones about 23 hours per day and yellow Gunnar glasses to reduce eye strain. Moving further into the room, I could see that he was doing homework on the big screen, with four different chat screens open around the edges. He had a movie going on the smaller screen, which he was listening to through the headphones. He often has the webcam on, too, and is talking to several people at once. I held my arms out to the sides, palms up in meditation position, and said, “Be Here Now.”
Do you remember that ‘70s book by Baba Ram Dass? It was all about experiencing your life as it happens, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Be aware of your environment and the people around you. Be fully conscious. All very Eastern spirituality and hippiness, and perhaps there were substances involved that would make his disciples not very conscious at all, but maybe we should think about the message.
I stood in line at the grocery store yesterday, and the guy behind me talked incessantly. Not to me, of course, but to an invisible person in his ear. I had seen him in the store earlier, and I saw him in the parking lot later. Always talking. Does he care at all about the people around him? We are making little tiny bubbles for each of us to live in, and yet we laud “community” all the time.
Reality check: Will you make it to the end of this post without checking your email?
Are you reading this with chat screens open? Are you watching TV at the same time that you surf the internet? Will you flip to a YouTube video to break up the reading? Do you check Facebook hourly or more? Are your friends really that exciting? Do you play games on your smartphone when there’s nothing new on Facebook? How many people are you following on Twitter?
What are your chances of getting through Proust? When was the last time you read a book as long as a Dickens novel? Or do you wait for the movies so that you can play Angry Birds at the same time?
Think of what this says about our upcoming presidential election. Many people will vote for someone because of a political ad that popped up before a YouTube video. Perhaps they will follow a candidate or campaign on Twitter and vote for the one with the cleverest tweets. There are a lot of people who get all of their news from comedians. Can a president be elected on the basis of stand-up comedy? Many people get very emotional about various causes, but how much depth is there in our philosophies?
When was the last time you prayed? Grace before meals doesn’t count. (Oh, now we’re gettin’ to meddlin’.) When was the last time you read the Bible and meditated on it? I am talking to myself here. We need to allow silence in our lives so that we can hear from God. (Those of you who are not Christians do not need to panic here. These are not the droids you are looking for.) How can we know what we think if we never stop to think?
Here’s something: let’s just try to notice how distracted we are. Try to spend some time every day “unplugged.” Play outside with your kids, or read to them. Try reading without having the TV on. If you’re interested in something, do some real research on it, and don’t accept other people’s opinions, no matter how many times they get re-tweeted. We can do this. We can be more thoughtful, well-informed, and peaceful.
Full disclosure: When I got to a tough spot while writing this article, I checked Facebook without thinking. FacePalm!