If you have kids, grandkids, or you are a kid—have I left anyone out?)—you face a unique challenge for this era. In a word: smartphones. I will argue that it was easily the defining issue of the past 10 years, and will be the defining character issue of the next 10 years. Attention span, interpersonal relationships, and the aspiration to be a compassionate part of the greater community depend on tuning out of ubiquitous devices. Nothing is more self-centered than a person trying to carry on a conversation (or operate a vehicle) while on their goddamn phone.
In order to be part of the discourse and aliveness of life, attention and engagement are still the critical ingredients. I listened to a speech from a management consultant recently who said that there were two events over the last 10 years that have radicalized adult life in the U.S. The first is the economic collapse of 2008. After that companies found out that workers could be pushed into overdrive—leaving fewer people (and, in most cases, reduced benefits) to boost the bottom line. That’s a bit outside my argument, but it is point-of-evidence number one. The second radicalizing factor, according to this consultant, is the smartphone. It enables anybody at any time to expect—even demand—your attention.
And I’m guilty too. I’m working on it, but I’m guilty. Here are a couple of small drops in this boiling ocean that we at Coastal Connecticut can contribute. In this Eden of beach and wood, we have the antidote to the attention wars and the stress pressure of dialing in. We have ready access to going outside, getting physical, clearing out and hanging up.
In short: get outside. I think the two minute highlight reel of my 10+ years of living here would be dominated by kayaking, hiking at Chatfield Hollow, running across the causeway in Old Saybrook, walking on Middle Beach Road and biking through the marsh in Guilford. Hell, sitting on the beach anywhere on a warm day is a peak experience. If I could just keep the goddamn phone in its goddamn place. And we could go for the reading aspect of getting off the phone. I have my heroes there. They encourage me (and can encourage you) to disconnect.
Here’s a warning from biologist E.O Wilson: “Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.”
On a more positive tip, there’s Megan Gilger’s Stay Wild blog talking about Sunday hikes: “We love the chance to get out and explore before the next week begins. It is like soaking up those last few hours of freedom in your weekend before you settle back in to the work week. There is nothing like an open field or a forest to give you the fresh air and clarity you need to begin the week. Sometimes those hikes can give me the room to think about things that I have needed to, such as mentally working through a design I am stuck on or even thinking through new concepts for a project. This is why I am a big believer in the Sunday hike. When you allow your head the space it needs to think, it can many times mean a better week ahead. Sometimes we just really need a little reminder of what it is like on the other side of the computer screen to keep ideas flowing and dreams coming true.”
Let this spring issue serve as part of that antidote. Get your ass out of Starbucks—get a kayak at Stony Creek. Take a walk on Middle Beach Road and stroll Stonington Harbor. There’s a world outside the cell phone: Be a part of it.