Let me begin by airing my own dirty laundry. I admit that I am constantly and regularly engaged with my smartphone and laptop; checking emails, responding to fan messages and watching YouTube videos. The honest truth is that the world we live in today pushes us to stay connected in the digital space. If we desire to be successful and relevant in this new age, we must adapt.
Now it’s time to air the really dirty laundry. Full disclosure: I am no stranger to ‘fake-texting’ to avoid human interaction. I’m not sure where this particular impulse stems from, but yes it does happen to me. I have also experienced, on occasion, phantom vibrations - the phenomenon when you feel or hear your phone vibrating in your pocket but in reality it’s on silent and you have no incoming calls. Oh yeah, I am also guilty of wanting to hear Siri’s voice over that of my girlfriend’s (sorry sweetheart). Okay, that’s enough disclosure for now.
|Prince Ea raps about 'digital insanity'
Despite the seemingly negative relationship between humans and technology, the benefits should not be under-emphasised. Millions of people have found love, success, built businesses and re-connected with old friends with just the click of a button. Thousands of lives have been saved byTwitter updates informing people of crimes and disasters. These are just a few examples of the beautiful by-products of the digital age. However, as I look inward and simultaneously step outside of society for a clearer vantage point, I cannot ignore nor help but wonder if our very humanity is being lost at the hands of our touch screens.
I have noticed, anecdotally and empirically, that even though we are more connected on a global scale today than at any other time in history, many of us also exhibit more loneliness than ever before. Cultural Analyst Sherry Turkley brings home the point in her TED Talk “Connected but Alone”. Turkley states that today we are short-changed out of real conversation as we connect in “sips”. This behaviour not only prevents us from learning and understanding each other but also compromises our skills for self-reflection, which we learn through communicating with others.
Studies show that four years of our lives, on average, are spent looking down at our mobile phones. That’s 1,460 days, 35,040 hours, 2,102,400 minutes. What else could we be doing or pursuing with this time? As the old adage goes, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Thirty-five-thousand-and-forty hours spent looking down, enthralled in ones touch screen could potentially translate into the mastery of nearly three subjects or skills. But please don’t get the overarching point misconstrued; while I believe it absolutely necessary to utilise technology, we cannot allow it to control us - we must remain in control. Four entire years shaved off from my life is a very long time and I for one would like to do something a little more productive with my time than looking at a phone.
The question remains, is there any hope? Can we auto-correct humanity? Can we find balance in a world that is constantly asking for our attention, updates and uploads? American writer and teacher on the social effects of internet technology Clay Shirky says: “Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.” I agree, but I am optimistic that these challenges can be overcome. You need not delete your social networks or destroy your mobile phones, the solution is simple: be balanced, be mindful, be present, be here. Let’s be honest, we humans ignored each other before digital technology. We must train ourselves to be in and to appreciate the present moment, bringing our minds back to our bodies with mindfulness. Zen Buddhist Monk Thich Naht Hahn’s book Body and Mind are One: A Training in Mindfulness has had an impact on my life and I would recommend it to you if this digital insanity is driving you crazy.
Digital technology is the signature of humanity; it is our creation and therefore it is totally natural. In and of itself, there is nothing inherently wrong with it. We must, however, maintain our place as consumers and not be consumed by it. We must not neglect the biological technology of our hearts and our interconnectedness with nature and other human beings. The pixels in your smart phone might be of good quality, but the resolution in the real world is a lot clearer. For me, sometimes, an emoji from my girlfriend won’t do, I want to see her actually smile. Her dimples and the way her eyes squint when she cheeses - no electronic representation can come close to that. So put the phone down every now and then, close the laptop and experience the world - don’t just capture and share it. In all this digital insanity, sometimes I imagine a world where we smile when we have low batteries, because that will mean we are one step closer to humanity.
Prince Ea is a rapper from the US. In his song-writing and stage performances, he focuses on combining creative and thought-provoking music that neatly ties in humour, wit, passion and hard hitting punch-lines. His YouTube videos have garnered over 13 million hits, and he has developed a loyal fan base. His organisation "Make SMART Cool” (SMART being an acronym for Sophisticating Millions and Revolutionizing Thought), seeks to promote positive social change in various concrete ways, including engaging with the youth and setting up educational mentorship programmes.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Follow him on Twitter: @PrinceEa
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Source: Al Jazeera