A month ago, I caught up over cocktails with a college friend I hadn't seen in over 10 years. When he walked through the door of the dimly-lit bar in lower Manhattan, I squeezed my eyes tight in the candlelight to see the figure before me. In our college days, we would saunter around campus, he with a top hat and cane and me with my golden blonde hair, an homage to Madonna's Blond Ambition Tour.
We worked at a commercial radio station in Providence, Rhode Island, which moonlighted as a college radio station. 95.5 WBRU is located on the campus of Brown University and was first broadcast out of a student's room in 1938. In 1965, the station was donated a commercial license and became a commercial radio station with college students like myself competing with every other commercial radio station in town. It was one of the first stations in the country to play Ben Folds Five & The Talking Heads. It was also the radio station which conducted the last interview with Kurt Cobain before his death. For clarification, the photo above is not from that last interview.
Joe was our promotions director, assigning us DJ\s to radio promotion events like the beloved 25 Grand in the Sand where radio listeners would slice into a beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island with plastic shovels in the hopes of unearthing a prize. There is a special amusement in watching a group of adults madly picking away at the sand with brightly colored plastic ware.
Joe was one year older than me and in radio and life in general; this amounted to light years more wisdom in all things. I was a naïve girl who grew up in the suburbs of Rhode Island. At my first radio promotion, my job was to ensure the musical talent had everything they needed backstage. As I stood starring mouth agape in awe at the stage and the special access I had observing the sound check, the lead singer sauntered up to me and calmly asked me to go get him heroin, as if it was as easy to procure as a coffee. I had no idea where one gets heroin in Rhode Island and further, I was pretty sure I'd be jailed in my attempt to do so. I have a special affinity for getting in trouble over petty matters. These were all experiences I could easily go to Joe in repose and he would give me thoughtful advice on this and other such requests like G Love's insistence on mood candles. The man was unshakable and could react to any absurd situation with thoughtfulness.
While Joe and I hadn't connected in quite some time, the palpability of our former experiences brought a rush of memories before me when he sat down at the table and beamed that same effervescent smile in my direction. I felt warmed from the inside; at home in the sunlight of a friend I hadn't realized how much I missed.
I informed Joe on my experience as a recovering digital addict divulging the lows of what I had experienced and my challenge to recover. When I reveal my addiction to anyone, my fear is that they will reject me or laugh, and considering the darkness I've clawed and screamed my way out of, this is overwhelming at times. After I ripped off the Band-Aid and shared my story with Joe, he took a deep breath, smiled and told me he empathized with my story. In fact, his experience had brought him to similar assertions about the mindfulness necessary to interact with devices. I was; wholeheartedly relieved. I exhaled and my body unwound. My friend got it; got me.
We began to chatter quickly about this insight, that research, or this experience with friends. He asked poignantly, "Have you wondered why we don't we have sensory memories around our experiences any more?" BOOM.
I had never considered this before. While I have been writing & speaking about working memory and my own massive memory loss due to my addiction, I had not considered sensory memory, the memory associated with our five senses (see, hear, taste, smell, and touch).
Consider this, when is the last time you had a memory in which you can remember all five senses associated with the experience?
In my case, I spent 10 years locked in what amounts to a waking dream, a life in which I appeared to be walking amongst you humans but really as a robot downloading the matrix from the comfort of her phone. I was always looking down, never up at the world.
In June and July, I drove across the country from Los Angeles to New York City and spent vast moments of time without cell phone access on Highway 50, dubbed the Loneliest Road in America. I can remember the smell of the trees in Great Basin National Park in Utah, the feeling of the sticky gnats that clogged my nasal passageways when I breathed in, the sound of the snow crunching underneath my feet as I walked down to the crystal clear lake, the taste of the water when I took a sip.
I remember the retirees I met in the parking lot who shared the story of the birth of their grandbaby and their travels across the country in an RV. I shared with them the story of my grandmother and how connected I felt to her when I gazed out at the Grand Canyon; appreciating that it was the same panorama she had seen when she stood in that spot. We cried together in the parking lot, strangers linked by the stories of what drives us as human beings, our connection to each other.
I remembered the details that give a 360-degree experience of reality, noting every detail of the scene before me rather than being distracted by a text message or mobile game. We human beings are amazing creatures, able to digest vast amounts of information. However, our working memory can only digest four to five pieces of information at any given time. When over-using mobile devices while experiencing the world before us, we are limiting our ability to take in sensory information about the world. When overloading the brain with constant cell phone use, the ability to absorb sensory memories is eradicated.
This will only become plain from personal introspection. However, the logic is simple. You can't park a 747 in a one-car garage. While some may believe they are infallible, we are human beings and there is a limit to our abilities. We are not computers and as certain technology companies strive to help us resemble one, this misses the point that our emotional capabilities make us unique.
What is a human being without memory?
We are a collection of our own unique experiences and without these, we become a blank canvas. The good part is, we are in control of how we experience the world. We have the power to take the day as our own and do whatever we please. It takes mindful usage of the gleaming rectangle in your palm which should never be considered an easy task. As a woman who struggles every day with her own addiction, I can only tell you that the world is far more joyful and vibrant from here. I can also tell you that I am challenged by my own usage every moment of every day but it is possible.
See some evil. Hear some evil. FEEL again.