I grew up in a small town on the central coast of California. Our narrative contained no "play-dates," "iPads" or "smart phones," TV was king, the typewriter communicated the written word, and the telephone wasn't "smart." We played mostly outdoors, using our imaginations to build backyard makeshifts of sticks and dirt to create fantasy worlds, worlds now created in 3D in an instant on Minecraft. Our vernacular contained the Encyclopedia Britannica, a heavy cumbersome set of books utilized as our go-to source for information, worlds away from "Googling" everything in an instant.
Growing up, we visited neighbors, played until dark, watched fireworks at neighborhood block parties. We were, in a sense, very connected to one another. Today we are also very connected electronically -- 100 percent of the time -- in every fathomable way possible. The difference is that today we often connect to people we don't know and disconnect from the people that we do. There is this notion that as the number of people we connect with grows exponentially so does our value, but ironically our acolytes, comprised of "friends," "connections," "followers," "links," and "tweets" add very little in the way of meaningful relationships to our lives.
The day after Christmas I embarked on a journey, disconnecting temporarily from the frenzied world of social media and electronics. When not at work I wanted to stay as present as possible which meant the interface between myself and social media - my phone, tablets, laptops and iPad's - would be limited to only communication that was time sensitive to and from the business I own. If something could wait, I would force myself to disabuse the notion that an immediate response was always warranted. Initially I felt lost, a bit like my constant companion had left me. I was incessantly feeling my pockets to make sure my phone was there. The compulsion to be "on" all the time consumed me. Disconnected from electronics for hours on end, I felt more anxious than ever. It took many deep breaths and quiet moments to clear my head of the constant chatter. Deeply ensconced with only my thoughts, the quiet solitude was so new to me that often it felt troubling. And then one day, something changed...
A sense of calm came over me that I had not felt in quite some time. I wasn't compulsively checking my phone, my email, and my PC. I didn't agonize that if someone had to wait for an answer to a question, or if I missed something noteworthy on my news-feed, the earth may stop spinning on its axis. After ten years, I reconnected with my childhood best friend -- who happens to live only two hours away. I was discomfited by the fact that so much time had passed and yet I knew virtually nothing about her life, save for the "filtered" images I saw on Facebook, which of course tell me nothing about her life.
My best girlfriend was like a sister to me, my soulmate, the only person on Earth I could bare my soul to. Ours was a storybook friendship, we spent our adolescence, teenage and early college years together, all throughout we shared our deepest thoughts and craziest future dreams. Soliloquies into the late hours of the evening about how we would change the world when we grew up were spoken with the conviction and naiveté known only in adolescence. The moment I saw her after a full decade of absence my eyes filled with hot tears as I was flooded with childhood memories -- water-skiing at the lake all summer, surfing with her dad, sneaking into the house in the wee hours of the night hours after we had far surpassed our curfews. The tiny threads that made up the fabric of my adolescence and early adulthood flashed in a Technicolor instant. That one afternoon did more for my soul than all of the seconds, minutes, and days spent browsing photos of old friends on social media.
Disconnecting electronically at home has allowed me to be more present, which allowed for a more experiential look at life. I read more, turned off the TV often, and connected in more meaningful ways with my children. My perfunctory "how was your day?" was replaced with questions that I knew would elicit meaningful responses. Recently, I was the last parent waiting at the Rec Center, in the dark, so that my son could finish his "extra" basketball practice. As I sat patiently with our dog, my son finally put down his ball. Dirty-faced and exhausted, he was effusive as he ran to me with words I do not often hear... "Thanks for waiting Mommy. That was my best practice ever!" It is these moments "in between" that we miss when we are so distracted and overwhelmed, we stop being present to enjoy life's best moments. Sitting there, I didn't feel frazzled or anxious, I wasn't shouting at my son to hurry up and finish. I was calm as I breathed in the cool, damp, earthy smelling evening air. In that moment, I distinctly remember my body being filled with a sense of serenity.
My journey away from electronics was supposed to last thirty days, it lasted ninety. It is hard to enumerate the many lessons I learned from my "force quit" from electronics. My children are slowly learning the importance of looking into someone's eyes when they speak; their use of iPads and games in our home is now relegated to weekends only; my mobile phone now lives outside of my bedroom. I learned that as we engage, interface, and connect more with technology than with humans in our everyday life, we are missing out on the one thing we know brings us happiness -- meaningful human connections. I've found that eyes truly are the window to the soul which is what we are losing when we are constantly looking at our mobile phones, tablets, and computers instead of into the eyes and faces of people that matter. It took a serious disconnect for me to finally reconnect -- and for that, I feel more alive, more human, and more grateful every day for being able to stop and enjoy the moments "in between" with all the wonderful and amazing people that fill my life.