A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see an old friend’s band play a show. There was a young man a few paces in front of me holding his phone in the filming pose. You know, phone eye level but off to one side. His eye shifting from the large screen to the stage and back every few seconds. My attention was drawn to the screen. I want to see the show with my eyes not through a phone screen between my eyes and the stage. “Put your phone down” I hollered at a low volume. A few voices behind me echoed the call. And he did.
While he watched his phone, he was not at the show. His attention was not around him. His energy was not with the people preforming. He did not see the band, he was looking at his phone!
While consumed with the smart phone, you are not involved in the world around you. Oblivious to your surrounding is a dangerous way to move though the world. Dangerous in many ways, not only to your body, to your spiritual, emotional awareness. Text while walking a city block. How many people passed you? How many men? How many women? Who made eye contact with you?
Look at your phone while riding up a few floors on an elevator. How many stops were made before yours? How many people got into the elevator? How many got off? What were they wearing? Where were they going?
Are these important questions? They are important if you are alive.
We stare at our smart phones as dumb mammals wrapped in pockets of no attention, the absences of awareness surrounding people.
I train to see dead space. From the earliest lesson at survival school, there is talk of dead space. Dead space the the mostly physical (often emotional/spiritual) area that is devoid of attention and absent of concern. The vacuum of awareness. The places that go unlooked at, unnoticed, and unseen. Everyone has them. Even when we try to eliminate dead spaces, they remain.
Walk into a room and notice where your attention does not go. Especially in your home, your car, your normal routes and routines, dead spaces are the areas you nearly never look at, the corners that are rarely noticed. Dead spaces are more frequent in your normal ruts.
A tourist looks around and tries to see everything. Walk into a room or a scenic view for the first time with interest and concern, and dead spaces are few because the attention given to reality is so great.
But look at a person using their phone. Texting, surfing, streaming, sharing, whatever. There is a visible tube of awareness pouring out of their faces and pouring into the small rectangle in their hands. To me, the phone appears to be actually sucking the attention out of the face.
Don’t trade your eyes for the camera lens on the phones. Don’t sacrifice your hearing to the ear plugs and signals of a new message.
People die because they do not pay attention. They walk out into traffic. They drive off bridges. Likewise, animals fall victim to hunters because they did not pay attention.
It is becoming a familiar paradox. The more we are connected via text, email, internet and media, the less we connect to the person sharing a room, or a meal, or a train. We can move though the world and share tons of thoughts with thousands of people without using our voice, only our thumbs.
I am terrified of this reality.
I recently watched an old episode of West Wing. One of the character’s cell phones rang during a meeting. He appeared embarrassed. He excused himself and answered the call a little put off the person had called him at all. That was ten years ago. What a change. This day, his phone would silently alert that he has a text and he would respond while still sitting in a meeting. To my sensibility that is very rude.
I believe our species to be in crisis. Everything is a crisis these days. Climate crisis, financial crisis, political gridlock crisis, people all over the world in crisis. Our awareness is also in crisis. What is the tipping point of our ability to give attention to our real world? How far will this go?