My wife and I went to a meeting for several hours. When we returned we both remarked that Carly Elizabeth had changed and indeed she had. No surprise here. She is changing every moment. We simply aren’t acute enough to notice. This morning she climbed the wood stairs hefting one of my shoes then scooted down, face first, carefully and skillfully on her way to the leather sofa that she now uses like a baby trampoline, exploring the bounce and uneven surfaces, smiling and uttering a variety of sounds as if to say, “there!” It was only a few weeks ago that she began to walk. Today it is a near constant joyful run. That is how fast her constant changing is.
Everything is sensory. Her passion is to touch, taste, and feel everything; the sign in the elevator, the cool tile floor, the smooth black rock as she drops it in a bucket of organic kidney beans. This is in contrast to our world that is increasingly virtual, a nonliving counterfeit of her ‘real’ experience. Our shifting relationship from a lived experience to virtual has been creeping ever since the inception of language, symbols and metaphors. In 1971 Theodore Paraskevakos conceptualized a device that combined telephony and computers. The world changed in 1993 when the first so called smart phone was offered for sale. Today, as you know, mobile devices, meaning they can be attached to the body 24/7, combine the computer technology, telecommunications, the internet, including email, texting and a variety of social media platforms and tens of thousands of apps that in many ways mimic yesterday’s television and video games.
Way back in 1970 Jerry Mander described in The Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television how television and implicitly today’s technologies shoot photons directly in the brains of billions of people all over the world at the same time that are designed to impact and alter behavior. No. this is not a conspiracy theory. It is called marketing, mass communication, advertising, entertainment, news (but it is not), social media and a host of other things. Jerry was a very high paid advertising executive who at first was self-impressed by the power he had over millions. Then he got scared. Only very wealthy individuals and their corporations had the resources to pay $4 million for thirty seconds on the Super Bowl. Mander predicted then that television, with its power to consolidate wealth and shape people’s views, to dull their senses by substituting an artificial, edited version of reality for the ‘real’ thing, would put an end to democracy as we know it and, as John Taylor Gatto described of compulsory education, would essentially dumb us down. He was right and those who use technology as a tool understood this very well. John Taylor Gatto explained how, at the top, there is contempt for the masses. We are like cattle that need to be herded in ways that don’t interrupt globalization. Distraction is the easiest method of crowd control. We call it entertainment. Then comes outrageous political and religious claims carefully crafted to whip people up, keep them tuned in which are also forms of mass distraction. For example, the next presidential election is not until November of 2016. That is almost a year and a half away and look at what is going on; show biz, premediated, carefully staged distraction.
I guess I am stuck on the importance of attention again. If you want to get fancy we can talk about mirror neurons synchronizing, not with nature but with technology. I prefer to keep it simple. We become what we give our attention to. On average, children ages 2-5 spend thirty two hours a week in front of a screen. That is 5,000 hours invested, I say lost, between ages two and five. Today the average adult spends forty minutes a day on Facebook. More than a quarter (28%) of the average worker's day is spent messing with emails. Researchers at Baylor University found that women spend ten hours per day on their phones, men spend eight. Sixty percent admitted to being addicted (got agitated when their phones weren’t in sight, etc). Most time was spent texting, 94.6 minutes a day. Pinterest and Instagram are among the most addictive activities. What is Instagram? Hint! A very short attention span, bam and on to the next. Another study, this time with high school students, found the more time young people spend with technology the less able they are to read and respond to the facial expressions of others, less empathy, less connection while believing they are more connected, less present, less ‘real.’ And the entire industry is based on addiction. Historically television ratings were based on the number of viewers. The more viewers the more the program was worth. Video games are based on addiction. Social media is based on addiction, how many likes. But addiction to what? Virtual reality is dead.
I walk by a park bench, surrounded by trees, puffy white clouds and kinda wild geese and four teens are sitting side by side pawing their dumb-phones oblivious to what is around them, including each other. I often walk Carly to sleep at ten or eleven PM and pass isolated human beings hunched over on the curb illuminated by that ever-present blue light, their brains marinating along with billions of others just like them. And this is happening all over the world while the planet is sliding further into the sixth mass extinction at a rate faster than the Permian extinction, The Great Dying, that snuffed 96% of species on the big blue marble. All life on planet Earth today descended from the 4% of species that survived. OMG, that’s awesome…
Bore them to death with compulsory schooling, inject them with massive and multiple mandatory, no exception doses of neurotoxins or they can’t get into public and now in California private school, give them the latest glowing, buzzing mobile brain marinating devices as early as possible so they can do lame homework that has proven ineffective, ask Alfie Kohen. But most important of all, so our children can keep in touch with a virtual world they can’t touch. Marinated minds!
I mentioned this before, but you might have had an Instagram moment and missed it. The essence of real spiritual practice, that is, real human development begins with gathering attention like a capacitor, building up capacity, sensitivity and present awareness. Historically, in Tibet for example where the inner game has been mastered for at least three thousand years, being able to gather energy and undistracted present attention for four hours without falling asleep or dreaming is considered a good start. Compare that capacity with the now global Instagram marinated brain. Next comes using one’s analytical capacity to negate all the false and stupid ideas we have about ourselves and others that waste the attention we have gathered. Imagine what this highly energized, highly sensitive and aware state of body and mind might do. From our nanosecond distracted mentality we see this as boring, dull and inactive. But wait, get rid of all the clutter, all the distractions, stop wasting our most precious resource on pack-man, the un-news, social trivia and what do you have, vast intelligence now perhaps for the first time able to see life as a whole, integrated, interdependent movement that desperately needs our help or at the very least is begging us to stop being so stupid. Our response would be completely different. And based on this unmarinated heart and mind we might just discover the obvious that will prevent our next catastrophe. At least we will have a shot. Naa. Let’s watch the Trump and Hillary show instead.
The love I have for Carly Elizabeth is all it takes for me to shut up, turn off the daily babble and tune in to right now. Instantly I become more sensitive, aware and responsive to what she is experiencing and trying to share with me. My challenge is to expand this quite expansive sensitivity to include everyone and everything. Yes, Carly wants to share who she really is and I underscore real, not virtual, with others. Yes, she wants others to see her for who and what she actually is this moment and the next. And oh, what joy when she knows we are dancing together and yes she can and does know the difference. Attention is telepathic. Sometimes Carly reaches up for me to hold her. Instead of pointing to the next adventure she rests her head on my shoulder and I know then everything is alright.
PS: Last evening, just before bed, Carly, in what we felt was a mean moment, tossed her cup on the floor splashing water up the walls. Z was not happy as she wiped up the mess. It wasn’t the mess but the mean intent that triggered her reaction. I came over, surveyed and I too looked at Carly with disapproval. Now, this was all very subtle. We did not scold, point our fingers or say anything at all but disapproval hung in the air like 1960’s smog. I held Carly near and whispered with soft affection, ‘We are not mean to you. Please don’t be mean to us.’ She began to cry and I held her closer. Something was different about this moment. We may have been tired, frustrated, and even angry in the past but disapproval was new and she felt it. That is why she cried. In that moment our challenge and responsibility was to affirm, by switching off our disapproval, that we loved Carly more than ever, that she was safe and could trust us completely. Carly felt this shift too as her head rested on my shoulder. What amazed me about this moment was how much transpired, so quickly and without words. This quiet quality of attention is absent when we are talking to ourselves or pawing our electronic pets.