Technology offers many benefits. But what is it costing us? It’s time for a frank discussion about the true cost of modern living.
I’d long treated my online life as a supplement to my real life, an add-on, as it were. Yes, I spent many hours communicating with others as a disembodied voice, but my real life and body were still here. But then I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time.
The above was written by Andrew Sullivan in this week’s New York magazine cover article.
The article is titled “I Used to Be a Human Being” and you MUST read it.
This is not a suggestion, like “you might want to check this out, when you have some time, at some point.”
When I say you must read it, take it as an imperative: READ THIS. Today. NOW.
Also: preferably, in the actual physical magazine.
Go out and buy a physical copy of this magazine. Perhaps talk to the guy at the newsstand or magazine store.
Then take the copy of the magazine someplace quiet. For the love of it all, shut off your fucking phone for 20 minutes. At least put it on Do Not Disturb.
This is important. You won’t read it the same way online as you will in print.
I’ve already read it twice through. I haven’t yet done a pass with a highlighter and pen, but I have already written a whole lot of notes.
This came to me today as a gift
This landed at my door today, perfectly on time. (I mean this quite literally, by the way: New York magazine delivers at my door, rather than the mailbox. Which is why I remain a subscriber.)
A few years ago I had the same insight that Andrew Sullivan writes about: that the way we are living — the constant hustle and doing and striving, the never-ending pursuit to do and have and get and consume more, and the perceived need to be “on” and responsive all the time — was killing me.
Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.
I reached a threshold where I decided something must change. For me, it happened just after 15 years online. 15 years of being on social networks and Usenet groups and the early web and the current web. 15 years of filling myself with news and content and emails. I could sense it was destroying me.
And I resolved to change it. I couldn’t wait for a solution because nobody else saw a problem where I was starting to see one.
And so I began a series of experiments. One at a time, I tried solutions. I have studied how to create habits and break habits. I have dived deep into the study of all the areas around this.
Spirituality. Meditation. Productivity. Attention. Focus. Rituals. Systems.
I experimented to find out what works and what doesn’t work.
All in the pursuit of bringing myself back to life in a sustainable way. It wasn’t enough for me to take a vacation from technology; I sought to incorporate it into my life in a sustainable way: a way that allows me to harness its benefits without paying the high price with my emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health.
I have mostly done this in silence: experimenting, cultivating, refining. Rinse and repeat. Along the way, I started to share pieces of my rituals with clients. As much as I knew that they helped me, I was still shocked to hear how much benefit others found from these practices.
Like every other human being, I occasionally stumble. Last week, for example, I had some moments that were not shining testaments to my enlightenment.
And then this landed at my door.
Andrew describes this all with incredible honesty and vulnerability. It’s illuminating, even if you’ve already had the awakening moment when you realized the costs of the life we are living.
I started reading and I couldn’t stop.
As I read this piece, I sobbed.
Every time I read an article like this, I am reminded of how far I’ve come.
Every time I read an article like this, I am reminded of the need for a change in the discourse. And for what I’ve created. What I’m still creating.
Because here is what I’ve come to learn:
We are killing ourselves — literally, killing our sense of “self” — by the way we are living.
This is not sustainable. It’s not healthy in the short term, and it’s certainly not sustainable in the long term.
You may not agree with certain parts of his article. You may not feel the need to go on a silent retreat. You may not like his belief system. I’m not endorsing or refuting any aspect of this man other than to say that he wrote an piece that gets real about what our modern culture is costing us.
And you need to read it.
We float through life in a trance of believing we are being social when we are being anything but social. We convince ourselves of the importance of responding immediately and accessing all the available information, but our responses ring hollow and we ignore the most important information — if we even hear that information in the first place.
What I love most about this piece from Andrew Sullivan is that he isn’t trying to pretend that technology doesn’t benefit our lives immensely. We all know this to be true. Technology isn’t going away. But if we don’t take back control, we will go away. We will lose the essence of what makes us human.
The saddest part is when we don’t realize it’s happening.
Once we become aware of this slow death, the imperative to change takes over. It becomes a must.
Please, I beg you: go read this piece. It is so important.
When you finish, come back to me. I have solutions to help. There is a way to take back control of our humanity and our lives. Sustainable ways to have both technology and the distance from it that we need.
Don’t we deserve that?