There is a lot going on in the world these days. The pace of life is increasing at an amazing rate. The progress we are making is incredible, and there is great stuff happening every day.
But progress at this rate is a double-edged sword. Yes, we have unprecedented access to information, conveniences, and services, but it’s also very easy to be overstimulated and distracted.
This is more evident now than ever before, but it’s nothing new. As that link above shows, the pace has been increasing for … well … forever.
But while that link above is interesting and related, it’s not really precisely what I want to say, which is this: we are letting ourselves get too distracted to pay attention to the things that are really important.
Here’s a simple example: I was driving home from church last sunday and realized as I was driving down the highway that there were whole sections of the surrounding area that I’d never paid attention to. Why? Because I, along with most of society, am always trying to get to the next “thing” quicker and don’t take the time to look around me on the way. To use a clichÃ©, I don’t stop to smell the roses.
When I stopped to think about it, I realized how very sad that really is. I used to just sit and watch water (and other things) flowing in streams or listen to the sounds of the forests. I used to truly appreciate the things around me, and notice the complexity in the seeming simplicity of nature.
Now I’m “too busy” for all that. And it’s not just that I physically have things to do or places to be. Sometimes it’s the mental work of taking in information from the overload of sources available to us these days. Podcasts, webcasts, RSS feeds, cell phones, blogs, email, PDAs, billboards (now including changing messages!), and even television and radio all compete for our attention virtually every minute of every day. And those are just the things that get in our faces and ask for attention.
I’m a geek, so I love having all this technology and information available. There is a large part of me that just wants to swim in the constant connectivity available to us. But there is also a large (albeit shrinking, sadly) part of me that wants to shut it all down and lay in a field on a mountain where no one can find me.
What I’m really scared of is that we are creating a society where we can’t sit and be silent, or even just amuse ourselves. We’re all ADHD-patients-in-training â€” searching for our next connection, waiting for someone else to provide some excitement in our lives.
I was talking to a friend last week and brought this up. She told me a story about a recent family get-together. The kids in the house were told to go outside and play. Fifteen minutes later, they were back in the house complaining they were bored and wanted to watch TV or get on the computer. They could not find anything to do in a roomy suburban neighborhood. Nothing stimulated their imaginations. That story, while not surprising, really disturbed me.
I’ve done one thing to “fight back”. Yes, I rarely cut the power to my computer, and you can probably guess my weight from the dent in my chair. Sure my television is almost always on (though that’s next on my list) and the radio or a CD is always playing in the car. But I refuse to carry my cell phone everywhere I go. That’s my little line in the sand. I use that phone for emergency only. I know it drives people nuts (especially my brother), but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not necessary to get ahold of me that quickly if I step out to pick up a snack or go buy some new underwear. I’m not that important. It’s a small thing, but it reminds me to stop everything and step away from the rest of the world every once in a while.
I hope I can teach my kids to find a balance.