You want to see someone in a cosmic and existential state of panic? Look at folks when the battery indicator light on their cellphones turns red. It’s not merely a look of an appliance, a thing, running out of juice. It is the panicked look of a human being concerned about crossing over to the realm of non-existence.
“Oh my God… No text? No Facebook? Who will know I am alive?”
I spent a lot of my time around 18-25 year-old people in classrooms, in coffee shops, in bookstores, in libraries. Much of our time is spent in university spaces, some with beautiful tall windows with magnificent views of quads. If you watch these young people closely, as I do, you’ll see that when they walk into a room they scan the room.
No, they are not looking for the best views. They are not looking for the most comfortable chairs. They are looking for a place to plug in, to charge. Time and again, they pick the place to charge their appliances over recharging their own souls.
This is where we are as a human species. We crave intimacy, and yet we confuse intimacy with technological connectedness. We have more ways of keeping in touch, and yet seem to have less and less meaningful things to say to one another. We are lonely, deeply lonely. So many of us crave community and intimacy, and are looking for it in all the wrong places.
On one hand, there is the 50 Shades of Gray nonsense and a 97 billion dollar porn industry having sucked so much of intimacy out of sexuality and sensuality. We have far too many of our men obsessed with cartoonish sexual gratifications. We pay a price for this obsession: this demeaning attitude that looks at women as objects to be possessed rather than autonomous human beings. The other casualty for both women and men is intimacy, foregoing the opportunity to establish real relationships based on vulnerability, communication, trust, and honesty.
On the other hand, we have our devices that seem to be never more than an arms length away. We have Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and a hundred other ways of staying connected. As long as our phones are beeping and ringing, we feel assured that someone, somewhere, “likes” us. We want to be liked, we need to be loved, but we are all too often unwilling to risk the vulnerability to establish real meaningful intimate relationships.
One-third of us would choose our electronic devices over being intimate with our partners. What’s wrong with us?
We used to look at movies like The Matrix and Monsters Inc. that show machines sucking energy from humans as a metaphor of our anxiety about technology. It’s not a metaphor any longer.
People in many traditional cultures used to refuse to have their pictures taken, thinking that each photo takes something of their soul. We used to laugh at them, mock these foolish simpletons. I’m not laughing anymore. We do seem to have lost something of our souls to these… these things.
We keep saying that these devices are actually neutral, and it’s just a matter of how we use them. I am less and less sure. Yes, we need to have wisdom in using them, but somehow staring into a screen (as I do in writing these words, and you do in reading them) does not give us the same sustenance as staring into each others’ eyes.
Eye to eye,
heart to heart,
gentle touch of a hand,
There is a subtle exchange of energy that nurtures us.
We crave connection.
Our souls need intimacy.
It is the very sustenance of our hearts.
I wish that we had the wisdom to pay as much attention to our hearts and souls as we do to our devices. I wish we knew our selves, our hearts, and our souls well enough to go into that same kind of cosmic and existential panic when we begin to run on fumes. I wish we knew our own selves well enough to know how to sustain our own hearts and souls.
For some of us, it’s through prayer.
For some, it’s immersing ourselves in nature.
For some, music.
For some, the gentle touch of a loved one.
So many of us walk around with the “battery” of our hearts showing red. Would that we were as kind to each other, and our own hearts, as we are to these devices that we are so quick to recharge.
iPhone spirituality? Not quite. What we need is less of iPhone spirituality, and more rejuvenation of heart and soul.
Let’s leave the last word to that sage of intimacy, Rumi:
There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of spirit on the body.
Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.
And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild darling.
At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face against mine.
Breathe into me.
Close the language-door
and open the love-window.
The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.