Over the weekend, the Sassistas! spent an inordinate amount of time watching the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, Flannista in her reading chair and Matissta in her corner of the couch. At one point, I looked over at Matiss. She was attentive to something on her iPhone. I then noticed that I, too, was attentive to something on my iPhone as well as something on my iPad sitting in my lap. Plus, the TV was blaring. The Sassistas! were less than two feet away from each other, but were we really together?
Turning 60 has piqued me to notice such distances, however small or great, which is one reason I deactiviated by Facebook account a month ago (more about this in a future post). My awareness was sharpened by a June 9, 2013 New York Times opinion piece called, "How Not to Be Alone" by novelist Jonathan Safran Foer. Its premise?:
Technology pushes us apart, so we must work harder to connect with others.
I encourage you to read this entire piece (the hyperlink is in the title of the article above), but following are the passages that I copied into my journal:
- Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat. The phone didn’t make me avoid the human connection, but it did make ignoring her easier in that moment, and more likely, by comfortably encouraging me to forget my choice to do so. My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.
- Psychologists who study empathy and compassion are finding that unlike our almost instantaneous responses to physical pain, it takes time for the brain to comprehend the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation. The more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth, the less likely and able we are to care.
- Each step “forward” has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.
- The problem with accepting — with preferring — diminished substitutes is that over time, we, too, become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.
- There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion.
- We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.
Avoiding the emotional work of being present. Conveying information rather than humanity. Living in a world made up more of story than stuff. Being creatures of love more than likes. Foer's words are challenging to all of us. Can putting away our communication devices really make us more compassionate?
And what in the world do the last two lines in the last bullet point (above) mean; specifically: "it is what we get in exchange for having to die?"
What messy, and painful and almost impossibly difficult questions! But I'm now 60. Time to be more attentive to such questions, not to mention, to those I love.