I was both fascinated and depressed by an article in this weeks’ Newsweek about the increasing mental and physical problems imposed upon us by our use of the internet. According to the author Tony Dokoupil, “the current incarnation of the Internet-portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive-may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.” This statement might feel a little over the top to you, since most of us have integrated our computers, cell phones and other tech gadgets into our lives without concern to how they might be effecting our minds, bodies and spirits. Yes, they have given us access to a multitude of ways to connect to family, friends and the world. However there is a dark side and the first good peer-reviewed research is emerging, and it is showing a much gloomier picture. You might see it in the faces of those around you who may be incessantly checking their iPhone to see if they have any messages. Have you noticed how many individuals walk around holding their phone as if it was their lifeline. And when someone can’t find their phone they behave as if there has been a death in the family. I’ve been with people who are so attached that having a conversation with them is impossible because they have lost their ability to focus on looking at someone whose actually present. They appear to be almost Zombie-esque until they hear the ring or the buzz of their phone, and then they come alive. I was astounded by the fact that the average teen processes 3,700 texts a month, and the average person, regardless of age sends or receives 400 texts a month. What disturbs me the most is that it is indeed changing how the brain is wired and not necessarily for the good. The internet is seductive as is all social media. The brain actually emits dopamine which is a feel good chemical. But like any drug it can be our undoing. Isn’t it time we started to take notice of the downsides. Our real need as human beings is to connect to one another in settings where we are able to see each other face to face. To see emotions and feel them so they can guide us in how to relate appropriately. You might want to take notice of your internet habits and your families. It just might be time to log off the net and log into life.
I love surprises, and I really enjoy surprising others, too. It’s one of those treasures in life that should never be abandoned. To really catch someone unexpectedly, you need to be awake and sensitive to what they say and do when they’re with you. “Waking up” is a continuous process. There’s no limit to your awareness, but it takes practice. How many of us have lived or worked with someone for years who has to keep asking us how we like our coffee. You wonder if they would remember your name if they had to take you to the emergency room. The poet Kabir expresses this idea very well: “If you are in a deep sleep, why waste time smoothing the bed and arranging the pillows?” It takes the ability to listen and be fully present in conversation so you’re able to recall the things that please others. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or complicated; in fact, it’s the insignificant details that truly delight people. To remember how a certain individuals take their coffee or what their favorite colors are means that you care and you’ve paid attention—you’re awake! Similarly, you need to remain open to the surprises that occur in your life. They can be lovely gestures from others, and sometimes they’ll be nothing more than a sudden appreciation of something new and wonderful. There’s a profound side to living a life full of surprise: It can spur your ability to be grateful. To act as if each day has wonderful unknown opportunities opens the door to being thankful and feeling happiness. I’ve watched many children clap their hands gleefully at a butterfly, flower, or rainbow—it’s the merry delight in the unexpected that they’re experiencing. What’s really great about kids is that they are surprised repeatedly over the same thing, however, our culture is making it more and more difficult for this to continue, since anything new becomes old very quickly. I have grown to greatly appreciate the surprise of finding my mate has emptied the dishwasher, cleaned the countertops and vacuumed the crumbs off the kitchen floor. I am totally surprised and delighted when I sleep through the night and when I can still fit in some of the clothes. It makes for a really good day. Try to fill your life with surprise and don’t allow cynicism to become your ally, for it will only age you quickly…then the only surprise you’ll get is an early death