As a psychotherapist, I hear a similar experience described by many young people in my office, an experience that is hauntingly symbolic, I believe, of our current culture and where technology is leading us. The experience is this: The young person is crying and feels compelled to find a mirror in which to watch themselves cry. They experience their experience not directly, but rather through their reflection. Watching themselves in the act of crying, they consistently relate the feeling of surprise -- that there is actually someone looking back at them in the mirror, a real person there with actual tears coming out of their eyes. Their surprise is in showing up in the mirror at all, in solid form, with a wet face to prove their upset feelings. I can't believe that I am really crying, they often say... eerily. The mirror helps to show them that they are real, that what is happening is real. One young woman I know went so far as to get x-rays of her arms and legs to prove to herself that she was real enough to show up on film. An interesting thing happens for these young people, however, in the process of watching their reflections in the mirror. They become even more disconnected from the experience that they are having, more alienated from the feelings that are making them cry. Instead, their experience becomes one of watching themselves feel. They become the object rather than the subject of their own experience.
We have become a society that watches ourselves doing everything. It isn't real unless it has been captured and viewed by our smart phones. When my daughter has a playdate, I receive at least a handful of photos from the babysitters who diligently record my daughter and her friends' every slurp and hug. While I am always delighted by a picture of my daughter, there is a part of me that wonders why we need to record every ice cream cone we lick. Does it feel less delicious, less like it happened if not captured by a lens? There is a part of me that wishes the children would be allowed to just get on with the business of playing and stop playing at playing for the iPhone.
Recently, I read a post on Facebook by a very intelligent friend of mine, a woman of about 50. The post read the following: Up for an early bike ride, now followed up by some fresh fruit and an acai juice. I read it and wondered what many of you maybe wonder as well... Why? Why take your time to report that? Why is it important that we know that about your morning's juice ritual? Do you not reap the same health-inducing benefits, take the same pride in that bike ride if others do not know about it? What has happened to the power of internal experience? What has happened to ownership of our own actions and intentions, private knowing of what we are doing and being, without an audience?
We as adults are losing the capacity to experience our own lives and becoming, like those young people in my office, unable to feel that we exist without the reflection of a lens or screen. I wonder if technology is not returning us to that infantile state when we ceased to exist if not mirrored back through our mother's eyes. With technology leading the way, we are creating an adult infancy, a state of being where no self-experience exists unless reflected back through our digital lens, our new mother. What will be the result of all of this unceasing reflection? Perhaps we will disappear into our devices altogether, finally existing only in digital form, birthing ourselves through a new app. My hope however, is that we remain in human form and find a way to discover our own presence once again, a sense of existence that has its own weight without needing to be captured or viewed. Stay tuned...
Follow Nancy Colier on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ncolier