Connected or Collected?: Some Thoughts on the Digital Leash

When I meditate on the good things, I am not ignoring the broken aspects of the world.  I am arming myself and rolling up my sleeves.

It’s become a habit to scroll through Twitter and Facebook feeds, check e-mail, and deal with details for writing jobs while I drink my first giant cup of coffee each day.  I really can’t say “morning” on a regular basis because I’m not a morning person unless forced to it by circumstance.  The above quote is a tweet I posted while waiting for my cauldron of coffee to cool sufficiently for drinking.  Slowly, while the mug of coffee on the table taunted me, this thought was joined by others from Joseph Campbell, Norman Peele, and even Buddha.  In the slowly instantaneous way that planets have of forming and understanding usually dawns, I put my phone down.  The screen went dark.  Nothing happened.


The Habit of Solitude

Gradually, I reclaimed myself, gathering pieces from the sound of a hawk’s cry layered over the distant drone of a lawnmower, felt the pressure of warm air on my skin, looked at the way river birch leaves caught the sunlight.  I realized that once, no so long ago, this was a portion of my day dedicated to the Floaty-Nowhere headspace.  It had been for most of my life–a time when I existed unresisting in that silvery openness that lies between sleep and full awareness.  This is the space where ideas swim like luminous koi through shaded water.  They aren’t born there, I don’t think.  And they certainly don’t remain there.

When I lived in Albuquerque, I had a porch with a particularly excellent eastern prospect.  The dramatic and often ethereal properties of light in that part of the country made Dawn worth waking for, even if I often broke my day with an extended Siesta because of it.  While Dawn was a magical experience at any time of year, what I remember best are winter sunrises.  Perhaps the long darkness of that season marked by skin-pricking cold and wraiths of indigo pinon smoke drifting on still, hushed night air made the return of the light each morning more deeply meaningful.

Whatever the cause, I remember sitting bundled against the frigid air, my coffee smoking furiously on the table beside me like something in Mr. Watt’s workshop.  There, I would hunch, ignoring the convulsive shivering of my body, as light spilled back into the world.  The sky would shift through a spectrum of colors for which I have no names–clear and achingly pure.  Before the sun crested the Sandias, those hills flaunted a silhouette of torn black paper–flat and saturated in their darkness.  I was wholly a part of this process.


Such Substitution Proves Unsatisfactory

What I’m wondering at this point is: when did my smartphone replace my pen and journal?  When did my eyes stop looking at the world around me, never tiring of drinking it in, and turn downward to view a version of the wider world through the scrying glass of plastic and metal?  Because it is a version.  All those articles, blogs, tweets, and status updates represent crafted and interpreted narratives of life on Earth.  They are further filtered by algorithms and programs designed to predict and selectively present stories to individual users.

This leads me to question whether I am really connected or simply collected?  I am a willing participant in an activity that wholly disengages me from my immediate surroundings.  It fosters the illusion of creating human relationships, which have no meaning beyond the world of the Internet.  If the portal to that world is closed for any length of time, those interactions diminish in their meaning, if they do not disappear altogether.  While I don’t think it’s a negative thing to be informed about world events or to engage in productive discourse with people who live in other parts of the world–or even touch base with distant friends–I have come to an important understanding about my own life.


Your Choices Determine Your Destination

A friend of mine, who still lives in Albuquerque, recently deleted her Facebook account because she realized that she hardly ever spoke with most of the people on her Friends list, even in that electronic forum.  She felt the utter shallowness of the supposed connections she was making there.  At the same time, she realized how much time she was spending on the site each day, not posting, but as a passive observer.  These thoughts coincided with, and were perhaps spurred by, the death of a coworker.  She hadn’t known him well.  She’d always meant to.  They were Facebook friends and chatted periodically, there.  Then, he overdosed one morning, and the chance to know him deeply was gone.

I think that, while to a large extent I feel my work as a writer-for-hire lends me to this same absorption, a small spark of my original desire for legitimate human connection remains.  My circle of followers on WordPress and Twitter are likely to remain small, since I only return the ‘Follow” if I see a potential for beneficial connection.  Because of this, and my distaste for blatant self-promotion through shallow networking or “friend-whoring,” I’ll probably never see any substantial success in my career.  I’m fine with that, because it tells me that I’m still true to my original convictions.

What has not remained constant is the enaction of another core philosophy.  I value a life way that is deeply experienced and incorporates concepts of movement, Service, and meaningful engagement.  In a way, this is a large part of what has built the best aspects of who I am, coupled with the ability to retreat, reflect, and be still.  While the trend away from this ideology has been developing for some time, in the last 18 months it has increased sharply in pace.  I get the impression of watching an ancient glacier calving for the first time in centuries.  I stand on the edge of the new, raw precipice and observe a portion of my Self–an important piece bobbing in icy shards on the tumult created by its own fall.  I now practice isolation without solitude and engagement without depth.

My smartphone lies dead on the table beside me.  I look at it and then back at the four pages covered with this inky introspection.  I see no reason to restore it to life, because it is the end of a digital leash.  Just who or what is holding the other end, I wonder?

What Friends Are For, by Erin Sandlin

One thought on “Connected or Collected?: Some Thoughts on the Digital Leash

  1. I found your thoughts on the complexities (and perplexities) of social media very thought-provoking and they definitely echo my own struggles to find a ‘balance’ with the necessities of an online “existence” as a writer, yet also keep that precious here-now solitude sacrosanct, so essential to creativity. Your descriptions of nature are so vivid and visceral – I wish I had a porch-view as wonderful as the one you describe. Best wishes for continuing to strive for that balance…

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