Ahhh, nap time. Everett is snoozing away and I melt into the couch to sit down for the first time since dawn. I’ve eaten some lunch and now sit to absorb the silence and sunlight streaming through our apartment windows. I revel in my quiet surroundings, the stillness, the peace …but wait–my mind is not quiet. Within seconds of sitting for my moment of Zen, I find myself reaching for my iPhone. Tap…any new e-mails? Just 14 promotional ads from retail stores and 5 daily recipe updates from various cooking magazines I subscribe to. Moving on… Tap- what’s on my calendar for the day? Oh right, just a play date that already happened this morning. Tap–what’s the high temperature for today? For tomorrow? For 10 days from now? Tap–what’s happening on Facebook? This one kills at least 10 minutes and 100 brain cells as I scroll through continued election venting, political party besmirching, and photographs of people’s kids and cats, most of whom I haven’t spoken to since grade school. Tap–have I remembered to play my turn in Words With Friends? I finally surface from immersion in this tiny screen world to realize that half of my down time has evaporated…and what have I really accomplished?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a Facebook hater, nor an iPhone hater. However, I am becoming increasingly wary of my own addiction to these technologies and how they are changing the way we think about and interact with the world around us. While I was craving quiet time, I invited my mind to become anything but quiet as it played leapfrog through various applications that begged to be “checked”. I have to wonder if our handheld tether to constant diversion causes us to leave little time in our days to just be alone with our thoughts. Original thoughts and wells of complex emotions that come from somewhere that an app can’t provoke…at least not yet.
I’ve been to a couple of concerts in the past few months at the Ryman Auditorium. Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor–both spectacular, lyrical, artful and poetic. While I enjoyed the night out and a chance to listen to great music in a quaint and quirky venue, I was also troubled by what appears to be the new age norm in concert etiquette. While I wasn’t expecting the lighter swaying and wafts of marijuana smoke of my 1990’s trips to Riverport Amphitheater, I was expecting a crowd of multi-age fans who sat and truly listened to the music. Instead, what I saw most was people experiencing the show through the lens of their phones and other devices. A woman next to me was actually reading from her Kindle during the entire Fiona Apple show, the glow from her reader attacking my peripheral vision as I tried to focus on the live alterna-diva crooning just feet ahead. Another man in my row texted throughout the entire show. It occurred to me that many of us just can’t stand to be alone with our thoughts and reflections as we absorb an experience. He wrote of Fiona Apple, “Her epileptic fits on stage are interesting. Did she do that when you saw her?” and this discussion went on for most of the show. It seems that there is no longer room in our worlds for recounting, recapping, regaling, remembering…because we have the ability to share our experiences with others in real time. Is this why we so often have little to say when we are face-to-face? Sad…and scary.
The majority of other fans were using their phones to snap photographs, take video, and sound recordings of the show. Some were uploading these to Facebook in order to incite jealousy from “friends” sitting at home and to add more artful flavor to their constructed identity–a persona in progress shaped and reshaped to convey the hippest, happiest self. And again I wonder, is it difficult for us to find meaning in our experiences unless we are digitally archiving them within seconds of their occurrence? Is it not real unless it is published, proclaimed, and preserved on a screen?
I suppose our addiction to constant stimulation and immediate gratification and feedback has caused something like listening to become a highly passive activity. I remember how my dad used to listen to his records. Lights turned down in the living room, television and voices off, and slow turns of his ankle to the artist’s rhythm as he really soaked in the poetry of John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, or Pink Floyd. Occasionally he might be prompted to pick up a pen from his end table and jot down a lyric to share with me later, an aphorism holding a philosophical truth, a lesson, or a commentary on changing times. But this was an afterthought and seemingly a deeper byproduct than a Tweet, text, or status update. Listening was the activity, the music the muse, the result being time alone with one’s thoughts.
I muse and perhaps rant on this only because I feel myself losing touch with my own thoughts and self as I succumb to the time-suck of my digital connections. I may not have gotten out my cell phone during the concerts, but I thought about posting a status update to brag to my friends, show everyone out there in cyberspace what great taste in music I have, and announce that sometimes in a blue moon this stay-at-home mom goes out on the town. I am guilty of reaching for my phone at a stoplight, because it just feels weird sometimes to have a few seconds of unstimulated idle time. I confess that I check at least 6 different apps on my phone way too many times a day just to pseudo-interact with someone besides a toddler. And it’s this dependence and natural inclination to reach for instant “mindless stimulation” (a puzzling oxymoron) that bothers me. How our are relationships, concepts of self, and thoughts being changed by our compulsion to tap out from our own heads with every tap of an app? I will continue to muse… and ironically use this blogging technology to do so. Perhaps a boon of our published lives is that we truly are all becoming writers.