Are you constantly forgetting things? Where you put this or that? What tasks you need to do tomorrow? Did you call about this? Did you talk to so-and-so about that? Do you feel like information is coming at you like a meteor shower every single day and you don’t know how to get it all under control?
Well, if you don’t feel like this you should. According to Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author of The Organized Mind, the amount of information that we are now exposed to as a result of the technology revolution is literally astounding our brains. He notes that in 2011, Americans took in 5 times as much information as they did in 1986.
I graduated from college in 1987. Let me take you back to that time. There were no personal computers or smartphones. Checking my Facebook feed or connecting with my friends through SnapChat or Instagram did not exist. People did not take pictures of their food. If I wanted to find something in the library, I had to look it up in the card catalog, write down its location on a piece of paper, and then walk to the stacks to find it. Nothing was online because there was no online. People sat on the bus or the subway reading a newspaper, or just sitting there, instead of absorbed in their smartphone, Kindle, tablet or other electronic device. No one walked around with headphones in their ears. If you wanted to relay information to someone else in your office, you had to have a conversation with them. You had to walk over and talk to them or pick up the phone. People wrote letters and sent cards – regularly. There was no email or text messaging. When you were working, you could only be interrupted by another live human being who showed up at your desk or called you on the phone. Nothing beeped at you.
As I write all of that, I feel quite a bit of nostalgia for that era. I feel sad for the people who, like my own children, didn’t get to experience what life was like before the internet started a domino technology explosion. As a child, I went out to play in the neighborhood when I got home from school. As a teenager, I talked for hours on the phone with a single friend instead of texting multiple people almost simultaneously while trying to do my homework. I do remember my brother playing Pac Man for hours, but that was a pretty basic video game, and he needed to be seated in our living room where our television was to make it work. Now, my son stares into his phone or Kindle for hours at a time both in and out of the house.
The result of all of that technology is that it has made us quite efficient in our transactions, but it’s really worsened our relationships with the breathing, living human beings that are all around us every day. And not only that, but it’s also draining the very life force out of us. Before the days of personal computers, you did not come home and get on your laptop or iPad. Maybe you watched television, but then again there were only three channels, so how long could you do that? You talked to people, went outside, read a book, took up a hobby.
Oh, but think of all that we can accomplish with technology! Well, think of the things people accomplished a hundred years ago when they had no technology whatsoever. When there was not a television or maybe even electricity. Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod and bifocals all while also drafting the Declaration of Independence, and writing, by hand, Poor Richard’s Almanac (without the help of Google). Einstein came up with his theory of relativity while working an 8-hour a day government desk job.
I am not suggesting that we go back to the stone age, and start our own fires by rubbing two sticks together, give up electricity, and throw away our laptops, smartphones, Kindles, iPads, tablets, video games, and while we are at it, television sets (which are now often bolted to the wall, so that in of and itself would be difficult). But I am suggesting that we bring a little mindfulness to how much space these are all taking up in our lives, and try to disconnect from them and connect to each other, and ourselves, a little more often.