We live in a fascinating era. We’re in the age of intangibility, of information, of personal branding. We have apps for everything: finance, social media, productivity, meditation, and travel. We even have apps that are supposed to help us have fewer distractions from other apps.
The times they are a changin’.
Every generation has a big struggle. The great wars became the struggle of many generations all over the world: they toiled and scraped together what was left of a bombed out and hurting nation. Here in North America, us Generation X and Y people, we have no great war. Our great struggle is one taking place in our minds.
Technology is an amazing thing. We can do so much with so little now. A few decades ago, having a wireless phone was reserved for high powered businessmen on Wall St., or the CEOs of major companies. Now, I know 5 year old kids with their own cell phones or tablets. There are more connected devices on the planet than there are people to use them. The Internet is this colossal monument of information, digital interaction, advertisements, photos, and people’s lives, and it’s available to us 24/7. It’s becoming hard-wired into our collective psyche.
The scary part, is that we don’t really know what it’s doing to us yet.
My generation was the last to really remember what it was like to come of age without the Internet. I was 15 when my mom bought us our first computer, and we had dial-up Internet. Depending on how old you are reading this, you may or may not remember what that was like. For the uninitiated, dial up Internet took forever to connect, made horrible noises while it was doing so, and if your mom needed to use the phone it disconnected. Myself and each of my sisters were allowed 1 hour a day. The Internet was a lot smaller and a lot slower back then. Outside of my one hour online (which I mostly used to build and manage my first website and chat with my friends on MSN Messenger) I had to do… old fashioned teenage things, like brood in my thoughts, listen to music (from CDs), or write in my journals (with pens). I couldn’t even live stream it.
I watched the world change, the coming in of a new age. I got my first cell phone (they didn’t really have data yet when I got mine) at 18 and watched most of my friends do the same. Over the next decade, technology progressed and we’re more connected now than ever before. We’re bombarded with glowing screens and advertisements everywhere we look. We’re so distracted and busy with everything. If we don’t have an online presence, do we even exist? We’ve stopped seeing each other as anything more than our profiles. Everything is personal branding and Wi-Fi connections. Everyone has a hook or an edge. Your self worth is your follower count. The latest device is a status symbol: which phone better represents you as a person? We store our lives in clouds. Human interaction: everybody is awkward now. Everything moves fast; our minds move faster to keep up. Check your email. Check your notifications. Did you get enough likes to feel validated? Rinse and re-Tweet.
If we try to focus on everything, we won’t see anything.
This is the first time in history that the human mind has been this crowded. We’ve gotten so used to being “on” all the time, that we’ve forgotten how to turn it off. Breathing room. Quiet contemplation is interrupted by anxiety: isn’t there something more productive I could be doing? We’re constantly clinging to and grasping for what comes next. We forget about now. We forget about this moment, and enjoying it as a breathing human being.
It’s difficult to say what the future will look like or which dystopian novel will most closely resemble the lives of our grandchildren. All we can do now is be mindful about how we spend our time. Make an effort to take time away from all the screens in our lives. Appreciate them for what they do for us, but at the same time, make room for quiet contemplation. Meditate. Go for a hike in nature. Spend time with people just having a conversation without emojis. Now more than ever it’s important that we look after our mental health, and practice self love so we don’t fry our brains on information overload. I miss being able to walk down the street and smile at a stranger without them looking confused like maybe they know me from somewhere. They don’t. I was just trying to share a tiny moment of the human being in me recognizing the human being in them. I see you.