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Is Your Smartphone Stealing Your Life?

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SMARTPHONE MULTITASK
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The most frequent complaint that I hear in my psychotherapy practice these days is that people feel estranged from their own lives, unable to enter their experience -- as if they are ghosts, floating outside the experience of life itself. Their life is happening and time is passing, but they are not exactly the ones living it, at least not directly. Our cultural disease is one of absence, as if our own presence has gone missing from life.

Our human mind is a pathogen in this modern disease. The mind is like a reporter assigned to conduct an ongoing commentary. The commentary is not only for us, but also about us and about our life. Rather than experiencing our life as it is happening, our mind narrates it to us through an internal voiceover, packaging our life for some future presentation. If the mind does its job, we end up well-informed about what is happening to us, but never allowed to experience it for ourselves.

Technology is now a powerful extension of the human mind. Technology captures life but simultaneously keeps us out of it. Technology keeps life safe, but in the process denies us access to it.

At any of my children's performances, half the parents are participating in the experience through a digital device, capturing the images of their children dancing while missing their children dancing. They are recording the experience so as to have it; to possess it as one would an object. And indeed they end up possessing just that: an object, empty of the felt sense of their children actually dancing.

Experience lived through a recording device cannot become a part of us on a cellular level. We can't own our experience because it is not own-able, not in a concrete sense. How can we feel like we are IN our life if we are not there when it is happening? In order to feel present in our life, we have to show up. We refuse the sweetness and nourishment that is life directly experienced, and then we wonder why we are starving for connection and meaning!

When we record life through technology, we end up with one thing: a lot of technology. We have 16 gigabytes of memory, but no real memories of our life.

It is we who are missing out on this great adventure that our smartphones proudly display. We end up with a kind of pseudo-ownership of own life; our life exists in the iPhoto file, but not inside our own being.

Beneath all our attempts to capture life is one thing: fear. If we stop trying to catch life, to pin it down: if we stop preparing life to be remembered before it has happened, we fear that we will lose it. We are afraid that our experience will end. It is ironic -- in an effort to try and keep it, we perform the ultimate sacrifice: We remove ourselves from it. We watch life like a prisoner that must be prohibited from escaping. Unfortunately, in order to feel IN our life, we must be willing to let go of life, to let life go -- and come again in a new disguise. The challenge is that most of us are not trained in this way of living, not okay with letting go of anything. We use our devices to try and freeze life, make it stay still and be solid. In the process however, we are not only missing out on life, but also choking the life out of what is captured, like pressing a fresh flower under glass to hang it on the wall. All that becomes solid is the recorder. The method itself becomes our solid ground, but in exchange for that ground, we forfeit the experience of being IN life.

It is clear that technology is changing what it means to experience life. Behind their devices, these parents are having an experience, but the experience is of technology and their relationship with it. It is no longer an experience with their child, themselves or the dance. The recorder has kidnapped the recorded; what was designed to capture content is now the content itself, what separated us from life has become our life. And the memory of what we were recording? Virtually forgotten.

We feel disconnected and absent from our own experience and technology is rapidly filling that absence with itself. What if we were to insert our own presence back into that absence? Instead of dispatching our smartphones to our children's recitals, what if we were to show up -- fully present -- with our own loving attention? How meaningful could life become if, rather than trying to capture it, we could allow ourselves to simply live it while it is here.