The cover illustration of this week’s issue of The New Yorker (“Capturing the Memories” by Mark Ulriksen), is particularly appropriate for this time of year. It shows a family on vacation in a beautiful tropical setting, all decked out in the usual sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt, straw hat, and sandals. They are all looking down at their iPhones and Blackberries, probably tweeting, posting, or texting about their experience. In the foreground, you see the shadow of someone taking a picture of them with a cellphone (and he’s the only one actually enjoying the scenic view).
Now that I am using social media more, both for business and pleasure, this image got me to thinking about how using social media affects our actual experience of our surroundings. Today’s smartphone makes it so easy to share what we’re doing with others. But while doing so, are we somehow missing out what’s going on in the here and now?
At a recent outdoor concert, I was having such a great time that I felt compelled to take a picture and post it on Facebook. I wanted other people to know what they were missing. But then as I took the time to upload the photo, I realized I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on and missed some of the actual performance.
I’m sure I’m not the first to have observed this, and so I checked online to see what other people were writing about this phenomenon. And not surprisingly, I found a number of articles on similar topics. One I particularly liked was on Adam Boettiger’s blog called “Digital Minimalism.” That’s a bit of an oxymoron, but the concept of his blog is to “offer strategies and tactics to achieve balance, to live life fully in an age of digital overload, interruptions, and distraction.”
In a blog called “5 Steps to Being Present in the Moment,” he talks about being over-connected and how it can affect your personal relationships. As he says, “There’s physically being there and there’s mentally being there.” So his tips are simple things like turning off your phone when you’re with your spouse or family and actually paying attention to what they’re saying. And taking at least an hour each day away from the smartphone and the computer.
It really is a matter of balance and moderation. Too much of anything is not a good thing, so you need to decide when you’re going to be using social media, and when you’re just going to focus on the people around you.
And I would say that you’re actually going to be more connected when you are paying attention to the present moment, especially to the people in your life. The smartphone in your hand is a conduit to stay connected with the outside world, but it is just a tool and as such should not be running your life.
This quote from Maya Angelou was posted recently on Facebook, and pretty much says it all: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Personally, I’m looking forward to a week in a log cabin in northeastern Vermont (the Northeast Kingdom, as they call it). There’s no phone, no internet, and no TV, and I’m not even sure how much my cellphone will work up there. But it’s a time to kick back and relax, read a book, go hiking and swimming, make music, do yoga, cook up a nice meal, and spend quality time with my husband.
To help you take a break from digital overload this summer, here are a couple of other articles I ran across with some useful tips: