Early this month my son forwarded a N.Y. Times article with the subject heading: "Your Brain on Computers." There is irony in the fact that our family's subsequent discussion about society's over-saturation with electronic communications all took place via email.
That's just one example of many that reveals the two faces of the beast that has insinuated itself into our lives (and I reveal my own bias). This blog post is another. Yes - there are phenomenal advantages to our new capabilities of communication. We are connecting with other human beings in some ways as we never have before - sharing ideas, sharing news, provoking each other to further thought.
And yet -- we are becoming increasingly DIS-connected from each other in real time. Even in each other's physical presence, we are often oblivious to one another. Our attention is electronically directed elsewhere.
The physiological and neurological results on human brains are examined in this article, which is truly worth reading beginning to end. Our brains are changing, but is it significantly more or faster than they have changed over the course of human history? Are the changes really bad, or just transformative? The author does not take a side.
Personally, I think we are becoming enslaved. Technology craving is compared to other addictions. Anything which demands the kind of attention and creates the kind of distraction that technology has put upon us cannot be all good.
J and I recently heard a radio interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist leader, thinker, writer, and very spiritual man. He talks about deep listening, listening with all of our attention and focus, in order to better understand each other. He talks a great deal about being fully present in the moment. It is crucial to our stability as living beings. Many of our global problems would be solved, he feels, if more people would practice being fully present and listening deeply.
My recent two day removal from the constant stream of global input was revealing. I am forgetting how to be with other people fully, and how to be alone with myself, without the regular stimuli that offer us something, always another something to respond to.
A lot of us need to go on a crash diet of technology restriction. Perhaps that will be the next fad - books and speakers and traveling seminars and franchises opening up around the country - all aimed at helping modern humans reduce our technological obesity.
On this past weekend's Prairie Home Companion, radio show hosted by Garrison Keillor, there was a comic sketch about a summer camp for technology addicts. As always, the humor is funny because it has a wry ring of truth.
This new addiction is the subject of the day, of the hour, of the minute. And here I sit, diligently sending out the message via cyberspace, adding to the input abroad. I feel the incongruity between thought and action, but I hope my scribblings may be of some value, like the NY Times article, or the the Thich Nhat Hanh radio broadcast, or the Garrison Keillor comic sketch.
People are out there, feverishly listening, reading, scanning, processing. If some of that input leads them to reconnect with their real worlds a little bit - the world of people, objects, plants and animals with whom they share a physical presence - then maybe it can do some good.