Putting Down Our Phones to Meet the Real World

Is catching a pocket monster worth jumping off a cliff?

Posted Aug 06, 2016

Two men fell off a cliff in California playing “Pokemon Go,” apparently, trying to catch characters in the virtual game.  And, I suppose, trying to gain the bragging rights that come with such a catch.  

It would be easy to chalk this up to a “Pokemon” issue, the distraction of the moment, but it would also be incorrect to do so. The loss of awareness that our use of technology is causing is about more than just a pocket monster. 

I recently watched a woman almost run down by a taxi because she was so focused on her smartphone she didn’t notice she was standing in the middle of the street. Two men pulled her out of harm’s way at the last moment. When she made it to the other side of the street, she got right back to her device, as if nothing had just happened. She was not fazed by the event, at least not enough to interrupt her flow of texting or even to thank the two men who saved her life. 

Technology is a powerful tool for communication, and yet the way we are using it and the authority we are awarding it are also making it into a powerful impediment to our sense of awareness. We are succumbing to our more primitive tendencies toward unconsciousness, going under a kind of technological anesthesia, which renders us unaware of where we actually are physically and with whom we are sharing company. Technology is dazzling us into a form of entertaining sleep, and too many of us are not yet making conscious choices about whether we agree with what is happening and in fact want to disappear from our lives.

Many people now need their devices and the ongoing infusion of entertainment, information, and communication that technology provides to keep themselves from feeling bored and agitated, which are now considered the normal sensations for a life that is “turned off.” What we expect from the present moment has changed: we are now accustomed to ongoing stimulation and feel anxious and lacking without it. Research shows that most people now check their smartphones 150 times per day, or every five to six minutes, but not enough of us consider our behavior around technology to be a real problem.

We so often feel disconnected and separate these days precisely because we are disconnected and separate from where we physically are and everything that that includes. We don’t feel part of our environment because we are not behaving as if we are a part of our environment. We are connecting only to our devices and then wondering why we feel connected only to our devices.

Being present where we are in our physical world allows us to remember our inherent interdependence and where we fit into this group dance that is life. When we join the physical world, we notice the other people with whom we share our space and our planet and with whom we might share a smile, a conversation, or a frustration. We notice the less fortunate lying in doorways.  We see buildings that other people’s fathers and mothers built. We become aware of foods that people from other countries harvested and our earth grew. We observe the trees, which make it possible for us to breathe. We take in the sky and remember that we are indeed on a planet in a solar system. We see ourselves in relation to and as a part of all of these other life-forms. When we look up from our screens, we realize ourselves as part of the world, not separate from it, precisely the feeling, ironically, that we are so often trying to get through technology.

Without this sense of interdependence, we are forgetting that we need one another and our planet, not only to feel connection and belonging but also, at a very basic level, to survive. We start believing that we need only our smartphones and at least one good digit with which to tap the icons. But this is not the case. To feel grounded and well, we need each other. Our interconnectedness is at the center of our humanness.

Quite simply, we need to put our devices down and look up from our screens. We need to wake up to where we are, reclaim our presence in our physically grounded environment, and reconnect with the real world, not the pokemon jumping out of the augmented reality our smartphone creates.