Over the years I gradually became aware that Self-realization would require simplification and in that regard I could also see that technology would pose a challenge. There was an unfolding technological assault on the Now. The phone was the first interruption of my contemplative silence even before all the elaboration of phone-related services. Cell phone? Fuuhgedaaboudiiit!
The computer was great as a word processor but I felt increasingly uneasy about E-mail and then the Internet. Well, you get the idea. So I intuitively banned the Internet and E-mail to my local library where I pick up my E-mail and do my on-line banking once or twice a week. My home has a monastic quiet to it now with very few phone calls. I have achieved the simplified life style that contemplation requires. How are the rest of my fellow Americans doing? Not so good it appears.
Emerging from the Benedict Music Tent during a concert intermission in Aspen one recent summer I noticed that the first thing many people did, especially the young, was to pluck out their cell phones. The movement was done with the practiced grace of a cellist drawing her bow across the strings. I thought to myself how wonderful the way people are connected by technology these days—it must support relationships and community building in a positive way. Maybe not!
Columnist Ellen Goodman posed the question concerning the quality of communication. Is being so constantly connected promoting healthier human communication? Linda Stone, a former Microsoft techie, characterizes ours as an era of “continuous partial attention. …But [older] adults too live with all systems go, interrupted and distracted, scanning everything, multi-technological-tasking everywhere.”
“We suffer from the illusion” says Stone, “that we can expand our personal bandwidth, connecting to more and more. Instead, we end up over-stimulated, overwhelmed and…unfulfilled.” Continuous partial attention inevitably feels like a lack of full attention. “People hunger for more attention,” says Stone, whose message has been welcomed even at a conference of bloggers. “Full attention will be the aphrodisiac of the future.”
I suspect that the “full attention” that is being spoken of here is synonymous with “presence.” No technology can enhance awareness which is the essence of life itself. Georgia O’Keefe once said it takes a long time to see a flower. No technology can rush the growth of the leeks in the garden… When a friend has suffered a loss, an E-mail condolence seems inappropriate and somehow inadequate. E-mail and cell phone, instant-messaging and text-messaging lack the presence of true compassion and that is precisely what our technologically sophisticated society is lacking.
References and notes are available for this article.
For a much more in-depth discussion on Simple Reality, read Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival, by Roy Charles Henry, published in 2011.