Have you seen this viral video called "Look Up?" It is a poem about our addiction to technology, coupled with some touching and evocative imagery. The poet talks about how even though we have a bagillion Facebook friends or Twitter stalkers, ultimately we are lonely. We are missing out on our actual lives because we are always looking down at our screens. The obsession with documenting, posting, liking, and poking takes away from every genuine moment because we are too caught up in the distraction of our online identities. Essentially, we are all becoming cyborgs, but without the cool red robot eyes.
I think we all have felt the oppression of technology on our psyches, however, I don't think that being distracted, detached, lonely, and unsatisfied are novel to the human condition. Just ask any emotionally unavailable dad or kid desperately craving attention. Although it is nice to think of culture as communal as bonobo monkeys, we have been pushing each other away long before the invention of Angry Birds. These feelings were just as real and problematic even before smart phones and computers - they just manifested differently.
Take for example the bored mom who is always posting pictures of intricate cupcakes shaped like Cookie Monster, or the double helix DNA strand. We all judge, and think she is bullshitting when she writes status updates like, "The perfect pancake breakfast with the perfect family for my perfect Sunday. I am the luckiest wife and mother in the WORLD!" Fine... maybe she is over compensating for something, but at least she has an outlet for expression and isn't locking herself in the bathroom drinking gin for breakfast like a housewife in the 50's. Being a mother is hard and isolating, so is trying to connect by broadcasting your experience as detrimental as living a repressed existence?
Or what about the person always taking pictures of themselves in the mirror with their shirt off? Yeah maybe I don't need to see your abs and top tuft of pubic hair first thing in the morning while drinking tea - but I get it. You are proud of what you look like, and even though that can be construed as annoying vanity, ultimately all that person wants is a hug and to feel validated.
Sometimes corny bragging makes us feel vindicated because there is so much of life that is thankless, or that we don't get credit for except in the abstract. Ultimately all we are striving for is recognition. Before Facebook no one gave a shit that I turned off the water when brushing my teeth, but now they have to care because I take selfies of myself doing it!
I am not saying there aren't differences in the way we relate to each other now and pre-Internet, because of course there are. But it is not like in the 90's total strangers were chatting it up on the train just to get to know each other. Or if I sat down at a bus stop, or walked down the street, I was inundated with kindness and people giving a fuck about me. I was mostly ignored then just like I am now.
Those people who are always looking at their phones during dinner probably have a predisposition to be distant regardless of the obsessive checking of alerts. The phone is just a tool that facilitates it. This is the same psychology as those who spend their time with you waiting for their turn to talk. People have had conversations where the other person is looking through them since the dawn of time. It is not the phone's fault we can't live in the moment, or appreciate who is in front of us. Humanity has been struggling for millennium to actually be at peace with the "now." I bet there was a Neanderthal who stared at a sunset and instead of marveling at its' magnificence, was stuck thinking about how his wife, Pog, was kind of a bitch that morning in the cave.
The reasons why we escape into our phones are more relevant than the fact that technology is seductive. Of course it is. It is portable entertainment. And why do we seek entertainment? Because being alone with our thoughts is intimidating and even terrifying. Technology isn't the problem - how we use it is. We abuse these devices because we are emotionally stunted, corrupted, immature, and indoctrinated. If I travelled to the Himalayas and gave some holy monks my phone, would they be wasting their days making fart jokes on Twitter? Probably not!! Although I would totally "follow" them if they did.
People who are truly evolved and striving towards spiritual and emotional transformation are already hyper aware of the impact of screen time. And those that participate unconsciously are covering up symptoms of an already problematic way of relating to themselves and the world. The Internet is an extension of who we already are - it doesn't shape our identities as much as we conform to it. Putting down our phones isn't the answer if we are too self-obsessed and consumed by our own thoughts to actually engage with one another and hug a homeless junkie because she looked sad, or really listen to your mother when she talks about what she ate for dinner last Tuesday.
It is pivotal to our development to foster a mature relationship with our screens because they can overtake you - but there are underlying issues that have to be addressed in order to accomplish that. Mainly, the basic fundamental philosophical quests people have been on since pre-history. We also need to remember that social media and the Internet can be used for vast acts of kindness, charity and ways to support one another. Like the woman who found out about a sick 2-year old and donated her kidney to save her life. Countless stories exist where this platform has been used for mass organization and genuine altruism. There is space for real connection online, just as there is in real life- it just depends on how we use it.