Without connection one can feel lost. Psychologists and physicians know there are very real mental and physical health consequences for people who chronically fail to connect to the world around them. We are social creatures. We instinctively seek meaning and consequence from the world around us.
Fulfilling this need served us well when time moved more slowly.
When we were tribal, living in small villages, or even in early cities.
When the world was bigger.
We sought and benefited from connecting with our neighbors and fellow citizens – banding together to protect and manage our resources, knowledge, and customs. Today, however, we satisfy our desire for connection with a false compatriot – our technology.
The screen you’re reading this on is likely your primary window into the world. It tells you what is important or irrelevant, what is safe or dangerous, what is or is not happening, and perhaps what to think.
It’s also a window into the entirety of man’s accumulated knowledge (and its baseness). Like a busybody neighbor, it makes sure to share everything with you that matters. Yes, it also gossips, pries, and perpetuates often needless worry, but that just comes with staying in the loop.
In trying to feel safe, informed, and part of a larger tribe, we tell ourselves we have upgraded from a disconnected state of constant uncertainty to connected state of constant confidence. Confidence that we can know what is happening and what people think about it whenever we need to.
This upgrade only makes sense. To do otherwise would be to separate oneself from all the others who know more, do more, say more and – sometimes – think more than we do.
But perhaps that’s exactly what we need.
To switch it off.
We each live in a hybrid physical and psychic dwelling we’ve cobbled together from the building blocks of frequented places, familiar faces, and daily routines – all pulsing with the persistent buzz of our tech.
Life changes often topple those teetering mental constructs like so many wooden building blocks. Changing jobs, moving to a new home, ending a bad habit, feeling the joy or grief of gaining or losing a loved one. These events jumble, destroy, and add blocks – producing new sets we use to reconstruct our new way of existing in the world. Our tech can provide a soothing but artificial sense of continuity during those times.
Over the past few months and after boondocking many times, including our stay on BLM land in Southeastern Utah, Glenn and I discover our sets of building blocks have gone missing altogether. Finding ourselves disconnected from our tech and in unfamiliar territory, we naturally worked to connect with what we found around us.
Without access to our newsfeeds, we have also been cut off from that fake sense of relevance and connection. During some of the biggest news cycles of the past 60 days, we’ve been totally unaware of what was happening as it happened.
Submerged in the deep stillness of remote nature, we floated free, far from the relentless force-feeding of news and co-opted anxiety.
Instead, there was only solitude, slowness, silence, and serenity.
That’s right. We didn’t know, and we were okay with that.
Our knowing a thing wasn’t going to change how the world turned. There is a reason yogis, hermits, and others pursuing enlightenment seek seclusion. Simply disconnecting from modern mundanity has a profound spiritual effect.
Once you’re disconnected, you stop reflexively shutting out the ceaseless, insistent intrusions.
You stop shutting down and stop retreating inward. You open up and extend yourself out into the physical space around you.
You are more present.
You are more.
Making the World Bigger
Those familiar with the velvet suffocation of addiction know how easy it is to slide into dependency. Everyone thinks they can stop whenever they want. This is especially true when it’s something that’s socially accepted – and even expected – like technology.
The promise of continual connection to the world is seductive. Besides, the tech tradeoff is harmless. All upside, as they say. You used to know so little. Now, you know so much. Too much.
If you’re honest with yourself, you also know that persistent feed of information just makes the world – and yourself – smaller.
Letting go of that conditioned need to know is not easy.
For me, it took several days of zero connectively for that craving to settle down. Without that endless, numbing news feed and quick-hit access to answers, questions accumulated.
I found myself wondering.
I wondered what that unusual plant was. What creature made those tracks in the night? Could it be dangerous? What was the name of that type of cloud I couldn’t recall? And what was happening out in the parts of the world I couldn’t see? My world had shrunk to my immediate surroundings, yet my wonder had reawakened.
Not knowing what’s going on far away makes those things seem so … well … far away.
The world became bigger.
I am not advocating willful ignorance. I believe being informed makes us better world citizens, neighbors, and human beings. However, being over-informed makes us anxious and hypersensitive. Not so sure about that? Just consider a conspiracy theorist or hypochondriac.
The goings-on half a world away may (or may not) be important to humankind, but they are not things I must necessarily know right now. Surrendering to the fact that they’re happening, unimpeded, without my awareness, my understanding, my empathy and, especially, my outrage to accompany their passing is a great release.
Now, to be sure, taking my news in smaller and more infrequent doses hasn’t cured my addiction. Only full abstinence could do that, and I haven’t figured out a way to make that practical. However, I have learned that consuming a daily dose of “news” in the same measure we once used to take a daily paper is the proper prescription for me.
In these times of hyper-speed news cycles, slow things down. Reduce your “need” to constantly know the latest events and how others are reacting to them. Instead of interacting with your screen, interact with the people and the space around you.
Try going somewhere for the whole day without your smartphone. Go out and be in a place.
Seriously, try it. You can do it, I know you can. Back in my day, we all lived perfectly functional lives without having the entire world tucked away in our pocket.
Unfettered from your tech tether, you’ll float free.
You’ll disconnect and reconnect.
Go ahead. Make your world bigger.
I wonder what you’ll find.