Friday, December 18, 2009

Shut off the phone, pack up the 'Berry, and be here now

It’s my birthday today, and I don’t want an iPhone.
I don’t want an iPod Touch either, or anything that looks or acts like a Blackberry. I’ve even got mixed feelings about having a cell phone, especially now that I won’t be able to use it in the car anyway.
I can’t bear the ads for “world at your fingertips” devices, in which people are depicted having unbelievable amounts of fun interacting with their phones. Have you seen the one where the young guy is sitting in a coffee shop “getting caught up with” half a dozen friends, none of whom are actually there?
It’s the new norm, to be present without actually being there. You think you’re sharing a meal with someone, but then their cell phone rings and you’re forgotten. You go to a meeting and count 20 people in attendance, but then realize that half are covert Blackberry users who aren’t paying a lick of attention.
I’m not a devout practitioner of Eastern mysticism by any means, but whatever happened to “be here now?”
Author Ram Dass coined that particular phrase in his 1971 pop-culture classic about spiritual enlightenment, Remember Be Here Now. But the concept at the core of the book - mindfulness - has been a teaching of ancient Asian religions for many centuries.
More and more these days, we live at the opposite end of mindfulness. Technology has given us the ability to fracture our attentions instantaneously in a dozen or more directions. And we seem only too happy to go along, with little thought to what is lost along the way.
This is not to rail against technological advances, which have broadened our ability to communicate across any barrier. I love technology.
But we’re on this Earth for such a short time. I puzzle over why we choose to spend so much of it in a haze of texting, sexting, tweeting, updating, emailing and cyber-chatting, even while the moment we’re actually existing in slips by unnoticed.
I’m 53 today. If I live to age 82 - the average lifespan of a British Columbian woman - I have just 29 Christmases left after this one. I have but 348 summer weekends left to enjoy.
Time passes at a breathless pace at this age. It can only go faster now that I’ve reached the age where 24 hours is worth half of what it was back when I was 25.
(Do the math and it turns out that each day at age 53 is equivalent to .2 per cent of the days you have left to live presuming an average lifespan, compared to .1 per cent at age 25. Yikes.)
I’m glad to be alive at a time when it’s possible to share music, photos, videos and thought processes at lightning speed with the whole wide world. It’s downright awe-inspiring to ponder the creativity and imagination of the people coming up with all this stuff, and the impact it has had on our culture.
But the precious days that make up a life are made up of precious minutes, and you can fritter away far too many of them on cyber-communications with people you didn’t really want to communicate with in the first place. Meanwhile, life unfolds around you and you’re half-aware at best - present in body but definitely not in mind.
I wouldn’t suggest that a life lived in a state of distraction could bring harm to people, of course. But I do know that I don’t want my own life to pass that way. The older I get, the more certain I become that every day is a gift and every experience worthy - and best savoured when body, heart and mind are all in the same room.
We have such a difficult time living in the now. Our lunch hours are spent with a Blackberry beside us on the table, its constant beeps and buzzes disrupting conversation and restaurant ambience even when we do our best to ignore it. We sit in coffee shops alone but never lonely, our headsets cranked up and our laptops open.
Do we remember who sat next to us? What we ate? Whether the barista looked like she could use a friend? How many potentially interesting moments came and went without us even looking up? How many experiences did we miss out on? Day after precious day slips by, with only the number of messages and phone calls received that day to distinguish one from the other.
Life’s short. Don’t waste a minute of it. Be here now.

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