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Be present 

Electronic communications can isolate us from developing close friendships, strengthening family ties, and building community

I doubt anyone would choose “She regretted not spending more time on Facebook” as an epitaph, or would want their obituary to say they cherished the time spent on their cell phone with family and friends. So why do so many of us, particularly those younger than 40 years old, devote so much time to communicating electronically?

How do we communicate these days? Let me count the ways: e-mail, cell phone, text messages, tweets, Facebook walls and messages, and probably some new ways I haven’t discovered. Not everyone uses all those methods, and not necessarily 24/7, but such exchanges are consuming larger and larger amounts of time and energy that could be devoted to much more rewarding activities, most important of which is getting out in the real world to build relationships with friends, our families, and our community.

My first quibble with the wonder of instant communication is that it’s a thief of time. The more time we spend updating our profiles and sending messages about our whereabouts and activities, the less time we have to actually participate in activities and make friends.

For example, I value the time I spend hiking in Big Sur, walking on the beach at Morro Strand State Park, seeing exhibits at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, having picnics or a glass of wine with friends at various wineries, reading books and newspapers, volunteering for the Literacy Council and SLO Folks, and writing poetry and articles. And yes, I also value the time I spend keeping up with friends—especially those who live elsewhere—via e-mail and phone, as well as  time spent on the Internet doing research for my articles and looking up information (“let’s Google that” settles a lot of arguments these days). But time is finite, at least in the universe I inhabit (maybe not in a parallel universe), and using time involves making choices. Live activities take precedence for me over the virtual, and I keep hoping others will also have the same priority.

 But overindulging in electronic media has another, more insidious aspect: not being present in life. If you are texting and watching a movie, you are neither completely here nor there; neither activity is getting all of your attention. Yes, I have talked on the phone and washed pots, but how much brain power does washing a pot require? I have also scanned my e-mails while waiting on “hold” for what seems like eternity, but again this is more an efficient use of time than not being present. What concerns me the most about the seeming need to constantly communicate is it is a distraction that saps attention and leads to missing out on life. I could elaborate but a poem of mine says it better:

“River Walk
with Cell”

Talking on her cell,
she didn’t hear

The cries of birds departing

For unknown lands, failed to see

The swirl of fall leaves,

Didn’t read a sign that told

What animals make this
river their home.

 

While texting, she missed

The faint freeway roar,

Reminder that both roads
and rivers

Flow through this place.

Intent on surfing the Internet, she didn’t greet me

Or try to stroke my friendly collie.

 

Checking her messages,

The honk of flying geese
eluded her,

As did slither of snake. She
didn’t catch

The ragged breath of runners
or the mother

Whispering sweet nothings

To the baby on her back.

 

An hour of missed sounds,
sights, and smells.

No, she missed so much more.

I strongly recommend the opposite of Timothy Leary’s admonition in the ’60s that we should “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Instead, we should “Turn off and drop in.” Take a Sabbath leave of absence from all electronic media one day a week of your choosing.
Or plan a diet of media consumption in hours,
not calories. Whatever method you choose: Be there now
.

 

Judith Bernstein contributes to several Central Coast publications. Send comments via the opinion editor at econnolly@newtimesslo.com.

-- Judith Bernstein - Arroyo Grande

-- Judith Bernstein - Arroyo Grande

-- Judith Bernstein - Arroyo Grande

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