And it’s an important part of the equation.
Because when we turn to the screen to steer away from our troubling thoughts, the screen doesn’t rid us of our thoughts.
It only stuns them and stops them in their tracks–for a moment.
I see this happening more and more–and I’m horrified.
And I’m not entirely sure why I’m so scared.
Years ago I used to see individuals out for a walk, doing nothing more than ambling about and enjoying the outdoors.
Now I see bodies tethered to cords coming out of ears.
Now, some people have tiny white stalks protruding from their ear canals, lacking the cords altogether.
I’m also guilty of walking while plugged into technology. I sometimes listen to YouTube videos or audio books when I’m on long walks.
And I wonder:
Do others think of me as I think of them—as the walking man with technology attached to him?
Why am I so concerned? Why has my extreme sensitivity–a trait I’m finally learning to appreciate–crossed the line of “typical” emotional situations and seeped into my perspective of people doing everyday tasks?
Why do I care so much when I see almost everyone on the bus face down in a phone?
Why do I hold onto hope when I see the younger woman sitting alone and anxiously reaching for the phone that she won’t open Instagram or Snap Chat — and then cringe when she opens Instagram and then Snap Chat?
I cringe because I know it’s an escape.
I know because I’ve done it before.
Most everyone I know now turns to their phones when nothing else is going on.
When waiting in line at the grocery store. When sitting on the bus. When waiting at a red light. When walking down the street. When waiting for class to start. When passing the time at work. When doing “work.”
To have healthy relationships, most would agree that good boundaries are essential. Yet those boundaries don’t exist with technology — and they need to.
I’m so alarmed by all of this because I don’t see technology making people happier.
Recent research revealing the disturbing link between excessive phone use and mental health issues only adds to my fear.
We have access to more information than ever before, but we are inundated by it.
Instead of serving as helpful assistants for our brains, smartphones have become our brains.
Unfortunately, the connection we get with electronic devices isn’t the same as the human connection that helped us to evolve.
We’re always “on,” the neurons are firing and firing, but we don’t feel better.
We are more rushed, our pace of life is more frenetic, and there never seems to be enough time to do all that we need to do.
But what are we actually doing? What are we saying into our phones that we haven’t felt compelled to say to others, in person?
It’s a new axiom for a digital world: “Have technology. Must use.”
And I believe that what we share with the world through technology is becoming less and less meaningful.
Before, we shared our innermost secrets with our closest friends and family members. Now we manufacture vulnerability to get more “likes” and “retweets.”
And the real stuff we need to share stays inside of us and feeds the torment.
Most people I talk to on a daily basis are overwhelmed. Most are “busy” and barely getting by.
It didn’t use to be this way.
I think there is a creeping reason for our almost-constant emotional and mental malaise.
I think lack of meaningful connection is causing us to suffer.
And not being able to articulate that suffering keeps it inside, allowing to grow and fester.
Paradoxically, sharing one’s suffering with others doesn’t further promote its growth; it quells it. It allows suffering to be named, to be distilled of its shame and ugly power.
Suffering, once articulated, ceases to be suffering.
— Viktor Frankl
Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who experienced unimaginable suffering as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, found a way to transform his suffering. In the process, he used the power of unimaginable pain to create logotherapy, a therapy model he used to help his clients find meaning. His 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning still offers timeless guidance on how to overcome suffering and find meaning to this day.
Upon this backdrop of relatively more insidious suffering and its transformation into a positive force–a force that propels tormented individuals to discover meaning–where does this leave us in a modern age of technological convenience and ease?
It begs the question:
Can suffering be articulated in a tweet? Can it be illustrated with a photo on Instagram or Snapchat?
I guess, technically, it can.
For me, this is not enough.
There has to be more. There has to be feelings exchanged and eye contact. There need to be two people holding space.
And yet, I see that kind personal easing of suffering happening less frequently, in fewer spaces.
Now I worry we might be losing the ability to fully articulate who we are and what we need from each other.
I worry that no one else is worried.
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