We are connected invisibly all the time, every one of us, through a psychic web of thoughts and emotions. The existence of the Internet has made this web tangible to people around the world. However, we are now in danger of losing our awareness of the power of that connection because of our dependence on technological gadgets that rob us of our intuitive intelligence. Smart phones are dumbing us down by keeping us compulsively plugged in to social media and online information sources.
When I ride the bus and train these days, there are very few riders who are not glued to their smart phones—checking emails, texting, tweeting, posting on Facebook, etc. The world around them goes by in a blur without their noticing. They could be passing urban high-rises or a park with trees and flowering gardens, and they would not look up. Where are they really? Yes, they are interacting with friends or acquaintances, and some of these exchanges are important and worthwhile. But a lot of this constant social back-and-forth is just distraction, avoidance of the present moment. So many of us pass the day in a trance state that blocks natural connections with the people and world right in front of us.
As you might guess, I am not a big fan of cell phones. I have avoided them for years because of the health hazards associated with them and also because I don’t want to be available for phone calls anytime, anywhere. Recently, however, I purchased a cell phone to use when I’m traveling. Because of the almost universal demise of pay phones, it became a necessity. Although my phone is “smart,” I use it only for the occasional call when I’m away. My home iMac is where I read emails and interact with friends via social media. I value these connections greatly, but I know firsthand the addictive attraction of online activity, wherever you are. It seems to have a compelling, magnetic power all its own. The images, posts, and website content draw me in and before I realize it, hours have gone by. I’ve been completely and utterly distracted.
The only way I’ve found to break this pattern is to limit my online activity. I usually check email, Facebook, etc. once a day and only interact for an hour or so. This can be challenging because I’m a writer, so I’m often at my computer anyway. It’s so easy to check in more frequently. I have to be strict with myself in order not to succumb to the sirens’ call to “log in just for a minute.” This is where conscious awareness comes in. Through meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practices, I have come to live more fully in the moment, to be aware of distractions when they ensnare me, if not immediately, then relatively soon. I know that when I spend several hours online, I am less connected to my own internal process and rhythms. The only exceptions are the spiritually related webcasts and communications that I participate in, which do in fact impact me at a deeper level. Other than these, my time offline is the most life-enhancing and soul-enriching: walking, gardening, writing—any quiet activity that centers me in my own peaceful inner core. Actually, spending time doing absolutely nothing except being present to the world around me brings me the deepest soul connection.
So what is the value of online activity? Is it more harmful than helpful? Well, I see it as an interim evolutionary tool to demonstrate to humanity the existence of invisible connections. I think more and more people are starting to become aware of the distractive downside of being perpetually online: smart-phone dependency. I recently read an article by a yoga practitioner whose 9-year-old son asked him, “Daddy, why do you have to check your emails so often?” A wake-up call for him. Perhaps it will be the next generations who show us that we don’t need those phones to be connected. Our own internal intuitive “smarts” that we are born with can handle that just fine, if we learn to access and use them instead of letting them atrophy. Each time we awaken to our own distractions, we take an evolutionary step into that space of awareness and connectivity.