Every generation experiences the arrival of some new amazing, unimaginable technological wonder which becomes commonplace for the generation born just after. My grandparents sat around the radio. Radio for my mother was understood. She experienced the arrival of television while I was raised on daily doses of sitcoms. The arrival of the internet and digital media, not to mention cell phones is what my generation has had the pleasure of experiencing with awe and wonder. My nephews will not have such awe. At one year old, they were both pulling up apps on their mother’s iPhone and playing games with their fingertips. Seeing such things makes me wonder how media will affect the younger generations ability to focus? And how does it change the way we tell and process stories?
I remember the quality of my thoughts as a child growing up in a big country house in rural Tennessee where darkness fell hard at night and there were no tiny blinking lights from devices quietly charging in corners. It was a beautiful time, before Google had mapped all of Earth. A time when you called someone you let the phone ring twelve or more times because it was the only phone in the house. Those were the days when a cloud was only precipitation about to fall, not a universal storage unit for humanity’s externalized intelligence.
There once was a time when TV show came on once a week for only one hour, sometimes never to be seen again and TV actually stopped flowing at some point in the night with the rainbow bars of the emergency broadcast system. It was not possible to consume eight hours of episodic television all in one sitting back when I was a child. In those days my thoughts traveled at a river’s pace, flowing with a logic easy enough to paddle back and follow if needed. The texture and color of my dreams reflected organic material like trees, grass, fabric, not the ultra-bright computer generated imagery I experience today.
The speed of thought to day has increased to a pace beyond description because of clickable technology. Today when I close my eyes to fall asleep, my thoughts jump, scroll, blink, and upload in ways they never could as a child. The way I think today mirrors the experience of web surfing and because these technologies were introduced in my lifetime, I am aware of their effects on the nature of my mind and my ability to focus, as well as how it influences WHAT I focus on. (Is this article searchable? How do the key words here rank?)
Stories used to be told by firelight. Many films and TV shows today idealize that very act of primitive times- romanticizing the days before digital. We are drawn to historical fiction and fantasy where horses are ridden and messages take days to arrive because in our hearts we sense something great value may be slipping away as we embed more and more into digital thinking. How much time do you spend sitting at a fireplace or lying on dirt or grass? More often than not, we spend more time watching visuals of actors doing such things instead of engaging in them ourselves.
Have you ever clicked your car’s locking and unlocking device at your front door, thinking for a second it would open? I have. Have you ever put your finger on a sentence in a hard-back book to try and highlight it the way you can with a tablet? I have. How about when your driving around the city and your phone dies and you realize you have no idea how to get home without GPS? Yep, I’ve been there. As we blend with advancements and conveniences
This technological climate is a fascinating and unstoppable journey which I am certainly thrilled to be on! But I also feel the digital culture needs to be tempered by the timeless values of patience and process that only Nature can provide. I will try to keep up with the digital age as best I can but I also feel an impulse to refrain, unplug, and log out, to return to the Smokey Mountain simplicities of slower times.
So, I propose a challenge. Designate one day a month to go completely off-line. See how long you can go without TV, phone, or computer. See what your brain does when faced with no digital visuals for eight hours or more. Don’t take your phone on that hike. Don’t check on-line for the meal you are cooking. If you don’t break out in hives and survive, you may discover some buried skill that satisfies you much more than couch surfing. If you can break past the fidgety withdrawal that is sure to come, what kind of world do you find waiting on the other side of your modern mind?