13 May There Are People Next To You…

Perhaps this is a familiar image: a family of 4 at a restaurant, the two children locked on screens, ear buds firmly blocking out any distraction— you know, like mom and dad asking a question (though it’s likely mom and dad are scrolling as well), as surely an important email beckons.

It’s irrelevant which part of the world you reside in, the scene is ubiquitous, occurring inside cars, homes, on vacation, in the park; a malady without discrimination. Futurists (whom I’ll conservatively define as people who lean on the side of technology) contend that the inclusion of gadgetry in our lives is a mechanism of universal connection and access to information: an unquestionable value to humanity and that bland epithet— progress.

Namely, because I can say what’s up on WhatsApp regardless of our place in the world, or given the instantaneous knowledge of water crises in Mumbai or dolphin exploitation in Indonesia (and the ability to opine on such matters), I am somehow enriched.

Yet, narrowing in on the tangible data of such a position, the details tell a different story. Close family and friends not interacting with one another in the physical, material world of our everyday, while locked-in on the tweets, grams, games, and newsfeed of our LCD reality is a symptom that we must consider.

As a parent of two, small, burgeoning persons, I feel this sickness (sadness, really) when I deny them their right to me, and my loving attention, in lieu of some impossibly trivial screen-based distraction.

If I catch myself, these moments of recognition come off as warning pangs, and I shudder at what I almost missed.

We might choose to see technology as a sign of progress, evidence of our evolutionary path out of the confines of our biology, a path to which we must race forward/down into the great ether of tomorrow.

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It’s more likely (as with almost everything in the world we live in), that a measure of balance is required. We must ask: what are we losing within this “progress”? Are our electronic (and impersonal) platforms for communing simply poor replacements for the connection to each other (and place) that we require at our deepest core?

Community used to be a tangible reality, traceable to place; be it the campfire, park bench, front porch, or corner stores of yesteryear. Now community primarily exists in a globalized fashion, a faceless realm where I’m free to comment how and when I choose, but where I’m never really seen or heard for who I really am.

While our attraction to practices like yoga asana help remind us that we are beings greater than the economic consumers of reductive advertising rhetoric, what do we have to remind us of our placement within the world itself as indigenous, dependent, communal beings?

How do we reclaim our capacity for intimate connection with one another? Or do we just bid it all adieu for a virtual reality where we can algorithm the desired outcomes of our fantasies and disregard real people, real places, real reality?

We live within an interesting time, as the fact that this question can be asked—the testament. It’s on us. All of us.

As a closing exercise, walk with me down this path. You’re on your deathbed. Your last breath is imminent. By a stroke of good fortune, you are granted a moment of clarity to trace the path of your earthly existence. What will stand out? What will draw a smile onto your lips? What will endure?

By Brad Korpalski