When we recently returned from the tranquility of Patagonia, we needed a psychological “heat shield” to protect us from the shock of re-entering the media-crazed “atmosphere” in the U.S..
Of course, we knew what to expect. Take, for example, one of our favorite watering holes in South Florida—a popular bar called Flanigan’s. It’s an intimate, convivial place with wall-to-wall TV screens—over 20 of them—that blare simultaneous news and sports channels. The many screens always seemed excessive for such a small space and always in competition with normal conversation .
But just when you think things can’t get worse, they do. We captured the symbolic image above in a recently opened pub in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. The place has no less than 175 TV screens—that’s right, 175!—in a space only slightly larger than Flanigan’s! You might call it electronic wallpaper, but that’s doesn’t tell the full story. Not only do the TVs cover the walls, they’re suspended in multiple rows from the ceilings, somewhat reminiscent of Buddhist prayer flags.
Such electronic fantasylands reflect a fundamental change in our culture—an addiction to high tech devices: laptop computers, iPads, iPhones, iPods, Apple watches, Androids, Google Glass and more. These products constantly compete for our attention, with rings, buzzes, vibrations, taps on the wrist and an incessant need for software updates.
Research from MIT has concluded that, in less than the span of a single childhood, Americans have merged with their machines. In fact, we spend more time staring at a screen than any other activity, including sleeping. The research also shows that teens fit some seven hours of screen time into the average school day—up to 11 hours if you include time spent multi-tasking on several devices. Texting has become like blinking, with the average teen processing an incredible 3,700 texts per month. As Newsweek warned 3 years ago, “the Internet is not just another system. It’s creating an entirely new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel, and few people will survive unscathed.”
It’s iCrazy and little wonder that many of us are searching for the equivalent of a “mass delete” button! Short of tossing out all our devices, is there a way to deal with the onslaught of mediocre imagery and data? A few suggestions come to mind:
- Plan periodic getaways to remote places where the Internet is not available.
- Reduce time spent on social media.
- Go online less often and only for specific, necessary purposes.
- Don’t feel compelled to respond immediately to every e-mail or text.
- Meet face-to-face instead of through a device.
- Leave devices at home, especially when socializing with friends and loved ones.
- Read more objective, thought provoking books and other publications.
- Schedule time to gaze at the stars, embrace nature—and meditate.
Sure, technological innovation is great, but devices aren’t the answer to everything. We need time and space to contemplate, relate to the world with common sense, engage with others face-to-face…and to hold on to our sanity.