A few weeks ago a woman told me about her decision to organize a breakfast with her family “without technology”. The planning had taken weeks: she had to arrange for her adolescent children to sleep in the house the night before; she had to convince her husband to cancel a business trip, and she was determined to make a meal in a house where usually each person took care of their own food preparation. In the end everyone consented to the Mother’s “eccentricity”, but the biggest resistance appeared on the morning of the meeting when she announced that all the cellphones should be turned off. Finally the woman triumphed, although in the first few minutes of their meal there was silence and looks of protest on their faces. She continued with her mission and inquired about the lives of these ‘strangers’. At the beginning there were only monosyllabic answers, but after a while the words started flowing, their bodies relaxed and the four of them stayed together for hours in this invigorating interaction. Moved and victorious, the woman affirmed that from now on her family would have this breakfast meeting once a month.
This scene seems to be an extreme case of our attachment to technology and the absence of true bonds. However, we can recognize the omnipresence and dependency of technology in our lives, if we observe our own reactions when they ask us to turn off our cell phones at the beginning of a flight; if we are conscious of how many occasions a day we look at our phones to see our messages, or if we think about the times that we spend jumping from one post to another online without stopping.
Frequently, in the media we are told about the novelties in the social networks or technological advances, but there is little information about the reasons why we should even use these networks or even have the last version of the latest device. Also, there are almost non-existent sources informing us on how these tools affect our health, relationships and the meaning of our existence.
In the article for the The Sunday Times* magazine in London, England, the writer Andrew Sullivan, who had a daily audience on his blog of one hundred thousand visits, affirmed how: “I started each morning with a complete information immersion on the internet, with the news, jumping from site to site, from tweet to tweet… I was in a multitude of cacophonic words and images, sounds and ideas… I started to fear that this new form of living was really becoming a form of non living”. This steadfast defender of the Internet started to suffer from health problems, sleeping disorders and emotional ruptures because of this obsessive relationship. The pressure was so great that he decided to take a silent Buddhist retreat, far away from technology for a time and he has now become a fierce critic of the unconscious use of the Internet.
Sullivan experienced the damages of being hyper connected and the loss of his inner freedom. Living in so many directions, in a race to communicate, being aware of the very latest information and ‘showing off’ his interesting life, he had forgotten how to Be in the world. And it was only in a retreat in the middle of nature, that this man recuperated his self-consciousness, the absence of necessity and a true connection.
Fulfillment, serenity and a profound identity are experiences that are accessible to everyone. However, to start to experience them it is necessary to recognize that our world is going in a direction that is the opposite of silence and unity. It is not necessary to abandon technology, but it becomes fundamental to take a distance, to make pauses in the technological noise and to remember what is essential in life. For example, taking back our attention in subtle and beautiful moments in our daily lives; the profound union with others; the capacity to listen without the impulse to respond, and all these valuable experiences that are lost with a sense of chronic urgency.
The reflection behind the breakfast without technology or Andrew Sullivan’s retreat is not directed at questioning the benefits of technology, it looks to mark a difference between the relationship of use and dependency. The above is an invitation for us to recuperate spaces of quietness, real bonds and time away from the Internet. Day after day, the Media will invite us to be more connected and the technology salesmen claim that we all need the latest version. But our responsibility will be in marking the limits and being conscious of the superficiality of this message. The technique should be a medium to facilitate our lives and not an end in itself. Our lucidity and our will can be our allies to find an equilibrium and recuperate times of calmness away from technology.
* The Sunday Times. “Why one of the first super-bloggers wants us to switch off”. London. November 27 2016.
Editor’s Note: A version of this text was published in the month of December of 2016 in the magazine Buenas Nuevas (Good News) in the Newspaper Diario Uno from Mendoza (Argentina).