Quantity vs. Quality

My children are in Nashville and Seattle. Sometimes we speak one or more times in a week. Sometimes several weeks will go by with no contact. I have no rules, nor any expectations around the number of connections we make within a specified time period. And when I am not holding myself up to what I often see happening around me, I feel the rightness of this for our relationship; for what I am personally after is quality, not quantity. What I am after is a give and take in relationship that honors where everyone is at; recognizing each person’s need for both sovereignty and interconnection, while understanding that that ebbs and flows over time.

This flies in the face of how many of us relate to one another now via our devices (With “to” versus “with” being the operative word). I hear this regularly from college students who text intimate others or parents multiple times a day; even when there is nothing to convey. It is less a communication than a neurotic, obsessive, dogged obligation. Too harsh? Maybe. But when you line up that for all of our ways to be in contact, too many of us do not allow, and are not allowed, any space to exist in the relationship outside of continuous contact, obligation gone bad becomes the most apt description of what is happening between us. For how else would we label how no to little time is allowed for anything of significance to arise or happen to us before we are back in contact again? How else would we label how we leave no to little time anymore to be on our own, or to digest an experience before we report it back out?

These same ever-in-contact students often talk about feeling harangued, dissatisfied, and burdened with so many obligatory and meaningless exchanges. But they find it impossible to break free as this way of doing things has become the new agreed upon currency of love and connection. Without which one risks violating a social norm of what it looks like to care. Without which one runs the risk of looking like there is not much of a bond between you and those you care about.

Why have we done this to one another? Why do we continue to do something that so burdens and diminishes what is between us? Why have we taken something so precious and so life-giving and reduced it down to a neurotic numbers game. Have we so little faith in each other? Have we so little faith in ourselves to experience life without immediately reporting out every last detail ad nauseam to anyone that we can text?

Texting is not talking. And quantity does not equal quality. It never has, and it never will.

Monsters

 

I am in the check-out line at the co-op this week. I often enjoy this time as I get to interact with all kinds of people; many of whom are twenty-somethings, and I love to hear what they are into. Some days it truly inspires me. Some days it truly breaks my heart.

On this day, when I ask the young woman how it’s going, she responds by saying, “Tired.” She then cheerfully adds, “But that’s OK-I’m always tired.” Even though I know that social etiquette would say that now it’s my turn to say something, I pause. She then picks the conversation back up by saying, “Well, it’s my own fault. My hobby keeps me up all night.” Hmm. At first I am wondering if it’s something like reading, knitting, cooking, or art. But because it somehow doesn’t seem to fit in with being up all night, I ask, “What’s your hobby?” She smiles a big, wide grin at me and says, “Gaming.” Pause. Pause. Pause.

Truly, I do not know how to respond. Where would I even begin? Since when has spending time in front of a screen been given the lofty designation of a hobby in the life of a human being? Since when did we collectively agree that depriving your body of one of its most basic and health-promoting needs is something to be proud of? And since when did women start jumping into a pathologically imbalanced male-dominated arena, leaving us now just as vulnerable as the men in making the wrong thing essential? It is so eerily reminiscent of women trying to be like men in the work force; ultimately putting us on the same level as them when it comes to rates of stress and heart disease.

Because the woman part hits me the hardest, I decide to wade into the pool on this one.

“Oh,” I say, “I haven’t run into many female gamers.” She tells me that’s because up until a few years ago it was really hard to break into the gaming circles if you were a woman, but that now it’s gotten way easier. “Why’s that?” I ask. Because, she tells me, the companies have figured out that they are losing money by not including women, so now they are much better at monitoring these sites and squelching bad and exclusive behavior on the part of male gamers.

“As a matter of fact,” she tells me, “there was a recent study that proves that the number of female gamers is the largest growing group. Even bigger than teenage boys!” She is absolutely glowing with pride as she tells me this. Pause. Pause. Pause. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. “Now they’ve got the women,” is all that I can think. This is truly terrifying.

This precious young woman has not even begun to consider what this “hobby” of hers is doing to her physical health, and her ability to be in her real life in any kind of a meaningful way. She has not stopped to consider that the open access that the companies have created for her and other women like her is being done at the expense of not only her body, but her very heart and soul sensibilities as a woman. She has not stopped to consider that this league of which she is now a part is a littered graveyard full of wasted human potential.

The irony of it all? Her favorite game is Monster Hunter. What she loves most of all is the skill set she has developed. The one that allows her to identify where the demons are and, even getting good enough to be one step ahead of their clever, demonic, and dark adaptations at eluding extermination. Would that she turn these skills on the very real monsters that haunt and elude her in the real world, she might just have a chance of getting out with her very own life.

Why The Abdication?

 

In the wake of the most recent school shootings, there has been a strong and widespread response from our teens for #NEVERAGAIN. They are taking to the streets, and to their social media outlets demanding that what is happening be addressed. Now. Some postulate that with these teens coming into voting age in a few short years, this has the potential to shift politics; putting our politicians on notice that they had better get serious about making changes around gun laws. Or risk being voted out.

So much possibility here. And if this were to come to fruition, how amazing that finally we would see some real movement on an issue long overdue for change. And yet, one question aches to be addressed and answered. Why have we left this up to the children? Why has this generation been so systemically left on their own? Why have we, as the adults, not been the ones protecting them? Not being the ones to get this, and other things like it, done on their behalf?

There has been a strange and harmful reversal of the roles between parents and children afoot over the last generation. Instead of the adults claiming their position as the ones to be the grown-ups in the relationship, we opt to be their friends. Instead of us setting and enforcing, necessary ground rules around what they eat, when they go to bed, how many activities they can sign up for, and how much technology they can use, we ask them if it is OK, or what they think we should do around limit setting. Instead of us drawing lines in the world on their behalf to protect them, we look to them to change the world for us. And for them.

What has happened to us? Are we too busy? Too distracted? Too overwhelmed? Too brainwashed? Too addicted? Too afraid? Too disempowered? All of the above? In order for our children to be able to take a healthy stand in the world, they must first have the experience of someone standing up for them in a healthy way. Too often, as a culture, we are dazzled by all that our children can do and have taken on without recognizing that we have forced the bud; and with it all of the consequences associated with putting children into the role of the grown-up long before they are emotionally mature enough to handle that level of responsibility.

Could this be why so many of our young people are so disproportionately suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, along with the overwhelming and bizarre fears they experience like no other generation has held in the way that they do? Let us never forget that when it comes to our children and the world they inhabit, it is always, and always will be, up to us.

Escape

 

Have you been noticing how easy it is to escape from our lives through the way we are using the technologies? Nowadays there is always a way to get out of where we don’t want to be, or what we don’t want to feel, or what we don’t want to experience.Think about it for a moment. Exactly what is it that we are trying so hard to get away from? Exactly what is it that is so awful that we cannot bear to be with?

Escapism is defined as the need to get out of, or away from, reality. It is essential to register that the very same reality we are trying so hard to get away from, is in fact, our very own lives.These lives that we are trying to get out of are, in fact, the very same ones that we ourselves have created, and continue to create; whether we know it or not. Whether we accept that as true or not.

If you buy this, then the most obvious question here becomes why do we create, day after day, lives we are so desperate to get out of? And while reflecting on ourselves in this way can be time-consuming and difficult to be with, without this knowledge, we live as if our lives are something we would just rather not be a part of. Lived long enough this becomes the hallmark of our existence, and the legacy we leave behind.

Without the recognition of the painful “realities” we have been creating through stress, busyness, and distraction we wind up using the technologies as a perpetual escape hatch as opposed to a tool to uplift our lives. Through our escapist uses of the screens, we create the life-depleting belief that we are getting away from something. That we are getting ourselves to a more desirable “reality.” Virtually. When looked at through the lens of escapism, all of this is true.

What is also true is that we are individually and collectively creating a world that is noticeably and distinctively uninhabited by people. Without occupying the world of our own making, we live removed from the truth. That being that when we live at a distance from seeing and feeling what is not working for us, there is no opportunity to self-correct. That being that our lack of personal accountability becomes a loss not only in our lives, but in the lives of others as well. And if there are enough of us vacating our lives, what will that do to the ones who choose to remain?

Some of us will go on to live all of our lives like this. Some of our children are having their lives built on becoming exquisitely skilled escape artists. If this is you, one way out is to begin an honest exploration of why it is that you feel so compelled to create a life built on such inhumane levels of busyness and overload, that you are left with one, and only one option; get out of your life any way you can.

P.S. If you want a big reality check, find Generation Zapped; a documentary on the negative impact the wireless technologies are having on our health, and the health of our children.

 

 

Personal Responsibility

 

Because of the way that we can keep track of our children, they are losing essential opportunities to grow into responsible and trustworthy grown-ups. When did we trade a childhood-long apprenticeship, seasoned with our guidance, for turning them into objects of surveillance? When did we forget that for healthy responsibility to develop, our children must be given time and space to figure things out on their own? What kind of citizens are we molding when their every move is being monitored and tracked by the technologies we possess? Which by the way, can be gotten around.

It puts me in mind of the college student who leaves her cell phone in her room at night while she goes to sleep over at her boyfriend’s apartment. Why does she do this? Because her mother is tracking her. So, while this mother sleeps soundly at night “knowing” that her daughter is in her dorm room, reality tells a different story. Not only has deception been installed in the relationship, this mother has eroded her daughter’s opportunity to learn how to live with a code of conduct based on a developing judgment and growing integrity that can only come through careful tutelage under an adult, coupled with increasing opportunities for un-monitored experience.

When we place our children under surveillance, they may learn how to go undetected, but never will they learn how to take what we have given them, add in their own life experiences, and move towards taking greater and greater levels of personal responsibility. Their lives, and our world, needs people who have developed an inner code of conduct that they can navigate by; whether someone is watching or not.

Additionally, we are training our children to be comfortable with being monitored, watched, and followed. How will this serve our children and the collective good? Big Brother really misses the mark here. For their future and for the future of a democratic nation, we must be intent upon raising a citizenry, who through years and years of training, guidance, and support, learns how to take personal responsibility for their choices. Not because they are being watched but because they have come to the conclusion that this is the kind of person they most want to be. Because they have internalized the best of what we have to pass on to them. Because they have learned to think about more than themselves. And because they have matured into understanding the cause and effect relationship of their actions in the world.

How will our children learn self-regulation, independent thinking, and trustworthy behavior, all aspects of personal responsibility, if they rely on being watched in order to do the right thing?

 

Undying Attention

It is as though our children have a kind of technologically induced ADD. Their focus shifts all around and is anywhere but where they are. They leap to the sound of every ping, chime, and buzz no matter the circumstances, no matter who they are engaged with. And even when it looks like they are listening, they are not; far too prone to utter the words “Wait, what?!” when someone is talking to them. They scroll, check, text, and post in the middle of whatever they are doing; seemingly unable to stop themselves.

Because there is always something else to devote their attentions to, some other choice, another place to be, another thing to see or “share,” another person to be with, they are rarely focused on where they are, what they are doing, or who they are with. Why expect or train the mind to settle on one thing when being scattered is the most easily accessed, and most socially accepted form of attention now? Why should they bother to hone their focus? The machines do not require that of them, why should anyone else?

Who knows, maybe they’re right. Maybe it is better to lay back into the screens when you have trained your attention to be so short-lived, conditional, non-existent, and where the constant offering up of increasingly louder and more stimulating ways to grab your focus is so readily available. All of this and more is theirs without expecting anything of them, or asking anything in return. Except of course, for their undying and short-lived attention.

Here

 

As awe-inspiring as it is to take note of the capacities of the thinking that has created the technologies, we must also include the ways in which our creations have magnified and exacerbated the troublesome sides of the human brain. One example of this is the ordinary mind, and how often it believes that some where, some one, or some thing else, is better than here. More desirable than where we currently are, or are with.

As someone who has been watching her mind for decades through a combination of practices, including mindfulness and meditation, I daily, and sometimes even moment to moment, watch how my mind will tell me that there is another place to be; a more superior place to be than wherever I am. I see it when I am sitting in meditation thinking that when I am done, and getting to have breakfast, that will be better than where I am. I see it when I am doing errands and catch myself believing that when I get home, it will be more of where I most want to be. I see it mid-week when I start to feel that when the weekend is here, and I am done teaching, then I will finally be in the better place.

Only… What I regularly notice is that whenever I get to the some where else, or some thing else, or some one else, not only am I not necessarily better, there arises a whole new set of places, conditions, and circumstances I would rather have or be experiencing. I am even doing it now as I write, believing that when I am done with this section, that life will be better. That it is somehow more desirable for me to get on to the next thing instead of being exactly right here; where I am.

Enter the mobile devices. The ones that travel with us through all of our here and now’s. The very same ones that connect us to an infinite array of some other place, some other person, and some other thing to do. If we choose, this can happen in a virtually non-stop kind of way. And when we use the screens in this way, it feeds the distorted notion that there is not much value in being fully wherever we are; compounding our tendency to try and escape what is happening, or who we are with, or how we are feeling. With the devices, there is always a way out. There is always a way to pacify the part of the mind that needs to have another experience, feel another way, attain the happiness it seeks someplace else. Anywhere else. Except of course, for here.

But the truth is, no where is better than here.   

The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

 

My daughter recently sent me a photo that she had taken on her college campus. The image shows a big expanse of space with lots and lots of students in it. What was the most striking feature in the shot? Everyone is on their phone. Beneath the photo she wrote; “The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us.”

This so heart-breakingly exemplifies my experience of late teaching at the college level. For the very first time in over a decade, I am beginning to wonder how long I will continue teaching. I am questioning what I do not because I am burnt out, or out of passion for what I teach, or lacking in creative ideas for lesson plans. I am not considering life out of academia because I am retiring, or because I am wanting to do something else. It is purely because I do not know how much longer I can teach to students who are so rarely in a position to learn. Based on recent conversations with other teachers at both the college and secondary level, I am not alone.

Regularly, students come to class exhausted, sick and hungry. Regularly, students show up expecting the information to be predigested and then down-loaded to them. Add to this the technologies. Right up to the moment that they step into class, they are on their phones. And then, it is the first thing they go to when class lets out. Many have told me that even when it is not with them in the room (as it cannot be in the class I teach) it is what they are thinking about nonetheless. Recently a student told me that she cannot wait to get out of class to rush back to her apartment so that she can be freely on her phone without interruption. She has noticed how much she is just dying to get back to catch up on what has happened, on what she has missed for the last hour or two; only to be left too often with an empty feeling and a wondering about why it is that she is doing this.

I am watching myself very, very closely now. I am asking myself to be aware of when it is that I am the hardest working person in the room. I am also watching them very, very closely to see if I can discern when it is that they cross over into some place where there is no coming back from. A place where the human call can no longer reach them. A place where they officially have become zombies, interested only in the call of their master; the screen.

Again and Again

 

I am about to teach my Wednesday night yoga class when I hear that a young man from our town has died of an overdose. He was 19 at the time of his death.

The news sits heavy on my chest as I teach. It begins to dawn on me who this boy was. My husband coached him in basketball. My two children went to grade school with him. As I am brought back to memories of my own children at that age, it is almost unbearable to imagine the fate of this young man through the memory of the boy that he was.

At some point, my mind turns to my 19 year old “boy.” Now enough of a young man to be living on his own in Nashville while he follows his dream of making it in the music world. Thinking of this world, and its proclivity to destroy lives through drugs and alcohol, I feel a hungry mother’s need to hear his voice. To be assured that he is OK. And while I don’t necessarily enjoy sharing this kind of news, I am yearning to connect with him through the feelings that have been stirred up through the news of this death.

Only. He has already “heard.” Seen actually.  “Someone posted it.” Days ago as a matter of fact. And here we are again. And again, and again, and again. With seemingly no end in sight to the ways that the technologies can disconnect us from the intimacies of our lives together, derailing us emotionally and relationally.

What is deep, private, personal, and meant to be life-stopping gets transmuted into what is shallow, public, impersonal, and just another piece of information in an endless news feed; nothing whatsoever available through this medium that would set this event apart from sexy pics, political rants, sports stories, cute sharings and narcissistic ramblings.

Inch by inch, or more to the point, post by post, the most precious, holy and noteworthy between us is being swallowed up in a technological sea of sharings so vast, continuous and muddied that it drowns out and obscures what more than anything else requires the respect of human conveyance in real time and on a human scale. And so, in the end, what will it matter that we can post every single detail about our lives immediately, while simultaneously not being known in the ways that matter most?

Wrong Places & Wrong Times

 

I am at a yoga retreat a couple of weeks ago; one that I have been very much looking forward to as a way of not only deepening my own practice, but as importantly, affording me an opportunity to connect with others over something that means a lot to me, in a time out of time sacred setting. So, to say that I was taken aback by the nearly constant presence of smart phones and tablets across the weekend would be a massive understatement.

It begins and ends with the smart phone that sat on my teacher’s mat before him as we practiced, and then wound up being fiddled with in his hands during teaching sessions. It continues with the participants who immediately reach for their phones as soon as the morning practice is over. It shows up at the lunch break as the devices replace the beautiful outdoor setting, conversations with others, and time spent alone in silence. It creeps in during our afternoon talks as the woman next to me checks her messages, and at one point watches a video.

Across the weekend, three of the women spend a good deal of their break time sitting on a couch together sending each other pictures and comments about the amazing time we are having together. On the night that there was talk about a fire gathering outside, nothing materializes as too many of our little group are actively involved with what is coming across their screens. And on the last day, as we are walking down the driveway heading out for a short and known walk, several people have a gasp response when they realize that they do not have their phones on them. Not to worry, the teacher has his.

What reveals itself here is that despite all that we believe can happen via the technologies, there is so very much more that is not happening and that is never being given a chance to happen. Things are being lost without the recognition that we are losing them. Things like the impromptu conversations that take you somewhere you could not get to on your own. Things like the quiet reflection of nature and what it might reveal to you, or in you. Things like the universal knowing that there is a time and a place for everything, and that if we allow the technologies domination over all of our spaces, our losses will be too vast for words, and ultimately, too enormous to live with.

Where are you allowing wrong place, wrong time scenarios in your life with the technologies?