Maybe a part of the problem is we are the designers and enablers of the connected life. We instinctively reach for the nearest device upon waking up (please, I urge you not to), or hold it close to our faces on the commute home to help the day's thoughts sink out of us. We justify our habits: technology helps us to unwind, but really it is the enemy of unwinding in disguise. It keeps us awake through the night, diminishes our attention and stops us from looking into the eyes of our parents, and even our parents' parents. I lament the new age eulogy: Grandma lived a long, joyful life. She died grasping her phone. I will carry with me the memory of the last text she ever sent. That is not how I want to be remembered. Do you? As parents, as lovers and as innovators, we must encourage freedom from technology if we truly want to create a future of capable and observant human beings.
In meditating on my own attention, I have found that the most profound discoveries arise when I turn off my devices and start to listen to people - really listen to people, myself included. But it's not easy. Everyday, I am forced into the ring with tech, my heavy-handed opponent, and it takes exhaustive mental training and daily dedication to put up a fight. So instead of keeping up a defense, l try to imagine all of the great things I could do if I weren't bogged down by perpetual distractions. I could notice a hole-in-the-wall Zagat rated deli on 2nd avenue on a different route to the office; lock eyes twice and then three times with a handsome commuter across the subway platform; invest energy into thinking creatively instead of spending it reacting to others. Certainly, our desire for adventure should not be determined by an app and our self-worth should not be determined by a group of strangers' social validation. We can train ourselves to come out victorious simply by choosing to look out instead of down.
Everyday I struggle to navigate this always-on, always available landscape. In the days of writing this piece, I acted on all of the digital things I struggled not to: I had the conversation (via telephone), paid the friend (via Venmo) and sent the group message (via text). But I also did this: I bought a plant and started reading Murakami's 1Q84, a much-too-big-for-work-commute book. I could not be happier to sit patiently and watch it grow and eventually blossom, and to travel into Murakami's imagination over the course of many months. Now if you'd like to put down your phone and join me, then certainly all is not lost.