Time was when our attention was caught by just a few things. There was news we read in the daily papers, or heard on the radio or watched on television. We thought we were busy enough with the things we needed to do like work, study, worry about the next paycheck, clean the house, raise a family, etc. But there was always time to interact with fellow humans, have good times with friends and family, read books, do some sports and yes, taste our food and enjoy it.
Even when we thought things were already a bit hectic, life was actually way simpler then compared to now.
The creeping onslaught of life-changing technology entered our lives with the advent of the internet and smart phones. More and more, we have been (perhaps unknowingly and tacitly) allowing the internet to insinuate itself into our lives and rule over bigger and bigger portions of our activities and our time. Now, it is no exaggeration to say that to a great degree we are all held hostage by technology.
I still remember being in my teens and meeting a girl in a skating rink in Cubao. After one or two visits to her house, I asked her out on a date for the next weekend. We agreed on a time and place to meet seven days later. There were no follow-up calls; not everyone had a telephone then. Believe it or not, the date actually happened and we had a great time. Life was so simple. People simply showed up when they said they would. We did not need all these present-day gadgets for reminders, confirmation to plan or do anything.
These days, with apps like Facebook, Instagram, Viber, Whatsapp, etc., things have drastically changed. People meet online before meeting in person, stay in touch, maybe even get something going if the vibes are right.
Technology has changed everything. I often wonder how people of my generation lived their lives without smart phones and still got from one place to another sans Waze and Maps and other travel apps. How did people travel abroad and plan their itineraries without booking a hotel a month earlier? How did we live and manage in such an “unsure” world? Now everything is tracked and documented. Our phones can suggest restos and destinations based on our past monitored activities. We can predict travel time, weather and contact practically anyone anytime.
We can also publicly express our opinions over a wide array of issues. We all have an apple box to stand on and tell the world how we feel. It is interesting to note that the earliest pioneers of the internet predicted then that the open access of millions to online conversation, articles blogs and data would guarantee the end of all dictatorships. How can it thrive when truth and facts can be shared quickly and massively? they asked. In hindsight, they were perhaps way too optimistic.
I’ve always looked at myself as a modern guy and I am up to date with the latest in technology. But lately, I have not been as excited about it as I used to. Frankly, I go through periods of social media fatigue. I am trying to limit my time on Facebook, Twitter et al. There is just too much noise and too little substance to pick up. And if you are not careful, your smart phone can easily take over your entire day, week, month.
These days, in my own little ways I try not to be too dependent on technology when I can. I am trying to get back to the increasingly archaic habit of reading books printed on paper. And I don’t go online to read reviews and summaries.
Perhaps because I exercise and am into health, I also listen to my body and trust my instincts when it tries to tell me something. Since I started meditating again, I notice how my body clock knows within about 30 seconds when the alarm would ring signalling the end of a 25-minute silent meditation session. When I do my walks around my neighbourhood I can tell when I have reached 5,000 steps or when I am close to walking an hour already without having to consult my gadgets. While technology is helpful in many ways, It is not a always a good thing to be too reliant on machines and gadgets. When you can listen to yourself and your instincts and your own inner wisdom, you can feel a wonderful wholeness and connectedness to things.
A good chef knows by instinct how much or how little to use certain ingredients when cooking particular meals. A good musician must rely more on instinct rather than machines to be able to make a great musical work. Everything is created and defined clearly in his mind before he even goes to the studio. An athlete knows when he/she is on top of his game. Gadgets and devices can merely measure and confirm what the athlete already knows intuitively.
When we turn on our devices, the whole world, or at least what we allow of it, rushes into our consciousness. We hear from and about friends, families, old classmates, enemies and read stories about all types of people, countries everywhere, etc. We sigh, laugh, curse, complain, cry, feel joy and indignation, wonder and fear, and feel so may other feelings.
But even while we feel these emotions, very often they don’t linger long enough for us to go beyond ticking the “likes” or “share” buttons. We have a moment of empathy, compassion, outrage but actually do nothing about these causes we reacted to. We end up moving from one story to another without doing anything concrete and helpful.
This constant and never-ending assault on our emotions and sensibilities may have made us inured to any form of commitment beyond our superficial likes and shares, and the occasional comments.
It is so sad.
Day in and out, we are exposed to the tragic goings-on and evils of the world. Sure, we may feel the pain as we read but we comfort ourselves with the pathetic notion that because we had reposted something or have ticked an angry or tearful emoticon, we have done enough.
The level of commitment we express online often does not match how we would really react in real life situations. As an example, we may vigorously express our anger and disgust at China and the present administration but we will not commit to joining rallies. Real life demands too much effort.
But in real life one has to physically show up. Nothing happens when no one shows up. We have to act and do something. I have been following the events in Hong Kong for a few weeks now. Hongkongers know the value of showing up and doing action. They have been rallying almost every day expressing their sentiments not just online but more importantly in the streets. We in the Philippines still have a lot to learn from them.
In this article, I am encouraging you my dear readers to live a bigger portion of your lives not in the virtual world but in the real one. It is not easy since we have become so attached to technology. The word is full of problems to solve and causes to believe in and fight for. Life will never run out of challenges.
Once in awhile, it is good to leave cyberspace and allow uncertainty and unpredictability to shake us up. Let’s get down and dirty. Stop wasting time in cyberspace and get into the speed and flow of real life. Our gadgets can only help us so far. By itself, it will not be able to help us have fuller and more meaningful lives. Only real commitment in the battle field of life can give us such meaning.
So let’s take a break from having our heads in the cloud and get down to real living on earth. Let’s take time to talk, laugh, and interact live and in person.
As Irish netizen Paul McGirl wonderfully put it, “Technology is cold. Find a real hand to hold.”