If you’re not familiar with the TED Talks, you should be. A “non profit devoted to ideas worth spreading,” TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) engages in a number of activities that fulfill its mission: Spreading ideas.
This TED Talk by psychologist Sherry Turkle looks at technology and texting and the many devices to which we have tied our ourselves, and wonders if expecting more from technology means we expect less of one another?
It’s a question that probably resonates with all of us. I have a friend who, while no luddite, is definitely not infatuated with technology. I used to get slightly annoyed when I would call his cell phone and I’d get voicemail. “Why doesn’t he answer?” I’d quietly wonder, thinking “I know he’s not at work, doesn’t he have his phone in his pocket, close at hand?” When I was in his physical, real time company, however, I realized that his phone was not on, not accessible, and that if someone were trying to reach him, they’d get voicemail too. You see, my friend had made choices about the importance of presence. He knew intuitively that “divided attention” is really “no attention,” and that when he is with he, he is truly with me. He knows that to be with another person, to enjoy his company, to engage her in conversation, all this means saying “Yes” to the “you” I’m with right now, and “No” — or at least, “Not right now” — to all others.
But it wasn’t this idea of presence that first jumped out at me. It was Turkle’s statement that our infatuation with technology and all our devices are getting in the way of people’s capacity for self-reflection. Time by oneself is necessary for healthy development, yet increasingly we hear of studies measuring the increased anxiety that comes with being “unconnected” to the virtual world.
Turkle is a psychologist and she speaks from that discipline. But it’s no great leap to hear her words from a spiritual perspective. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are filled with examples bespeaking both the importance of true presence to one another, and the need for occasional trips into the desert, alone.
What richer lives we might lead if we can appreciate just a little more the real value of the present moment, including those moments of solitude which invite us more deeply into ourselves. After all, it’s only by knowing ourselves as deeply as we can that we are able to share our true selves with one another.