Everywhere I look, there seems to be a desperate lack of calm.
When did everybody become so tense/uptight/frazzled/frantic? Why the rapidly-mutating lack of tranquility? How did our collective stress level reach such dizzying heights?
We recite mantras like magic words:
Keep calm and carry on.
Too blessed to be stressed.
But the knee-jerk reaction to anything unexpected, out-of-the-ordinary or beyond our comfort zone seems to be…
(At the disco. Or anyplace else we happen to be.)
Even when all seems well, undetected stress simmering beneath the surface threatens to bubble over. Mild irritation turns to minor frustration… which becomes moderate agitation… which morphs into major aggravation…
Which inevitably spirals into a monstrous meltdown.
(Sometimes in a matter of minutes.)
Just watch the nightly news, and you’ll get a sneaking suspicion that our country is coming untethered; our communities are coming unhinged; families are coming unraveled… and people are coming unglued.
A smattering of this week’s headlines includes criminal sexual assaults, opiod overdoses, active shooters, adolescent suicides and road rage incidents. Scary, huh?
Mental health crises are commonplace. Depression is sharply on the rise. Anxiety is pandemic. And researchers are assigning some of the blame on the poison…
In the palm of our hands.
(And our children’s.)
One internet safety specialist wrote a book specifically addressing the pitfalls of smart-phones-for-all. It’s title? The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket.
A former assistant to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc…”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying smartphones are altogether terrible/awful/evil. (I’m also not saying that handheld devices cause chemical imbalances. Of course not.)
I’m simply saying this:
Fingertip tech is – like so many other things – a blessing and a curse.
It’s a useful device and a terrible distraction. It connects us… and isolates us.
It gives us directions… and causes us to lose our bearings, somehow.
It gives us a sense of control… and makes us digital addicts.
Every-waking-hour data druggies.
(And sometimes when we’re trying to sleep too.)
The truth is, most of us rarely unplug or power off. (Heck, we bristle at having to switch to “airplane mode” for a couple hours.)
We spend our days “drinking from a firehose” of digital data. Our brains are besieged by constantly-streaming information, ideas, images.
The deluge of information in modern times by the media and other information sources has led to daily “bombing” of the average human brain with such a large volume of information which could overload even a powerful computer, according to information scientists. (Source: Tech 21 Century)
A study done by researchers at UCSD found that Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 – the equivalent of 174 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words every day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day, and on average, we watch five hours of television daily, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media combined including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet. (Source: Telegraph UK)
I find these numbers astonishing. And a little unsettling.
But the really crazy thing?
This study was done 10 years ago. I’m guessing we far exceed those numbers in 2019.
And I can’t imagine it’s good for our brains. (My head hurts just thinking about this.)
So much media. So many messages. Some informative, some inflammatory. Some uplifting, some devastating. Some delightful, some dreaded.
Alerts come 24/7/365.
Some are smiley-face-heart-eyes-confetti-and-cake happy texts. Birthday messages and pizza promo codes and cute puppy videos.
(But then you throw in the can-of-worms commonly known as social media. The running commentary on FB/Twitter/Insta definitely doesn’t offer much insight. It mostly just incites. If you’re looking for a heaping dose of harsh criticism, complaints or judgment, you’ve come to the right place. Public humiliation… available to all… in the comfort of your own car/cubicle/condo. We’ve all been forewarned about the bad boys, mean girls, cyberbullies and predators. But what we’ve done – unwittingly, of course – is invited them into our daily conversation. Oh joy.)
Then there’s the garden-variety hassles. Notifications about bad grades, late fees, product recalls, cancelled meetings.
Most of us file these notifications right where they belong: the trash bin.
But others strike fear in our hearts:
Biopsy results… Emergency alerts… Subpoenas.
Our constant connectivity is creating a sense of urgency (and yes, anxiety) that we struggle to shake.
And in an effort to minimize our panic… some of us just completely disengage. We scroll, sigh, shrug. We watch from the sidelines and remain uninvested and uninvolved.
Are those the only options?
Perpetually panicked or utterly apathetic?
Sunday (and M/T/W/Th/F/Sa) Scaries… or Zombie Apocalypse?
(Cue the eerie sound effects… and the wicked laugh: Mwahahaha!)
Maybe this is a nightmare.
STAY WOKE, PEOPLE.
Put the freaking phone down.
Listen. Engage. Respond. Relate. Face-to-face… in real time.
Get your groove back.
(And your LIFE too.)
In the words of the uncannily clever Anne Lamott:
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… even you.
Power off and power nap. There’s a handy little setting on your phone:
Do not disturb.
(Perhaps you haven’t discovered it yet. Well, today’s your lucky – lifechanging! – day.)
Activate that sucker.
Or better yet…
Quiet the clamor and soak up some stillness.
There’s a powerful scripture that begins with two little words.
It’s not a friendly suggestion or self-help step. It’s an explicit instruction from your Maker.
(There’s more. It’s a two-part directive… feel free to keep reading: Psalm 46.)
Linger there awhile. It’ll do your body, mind and spirit good.
Do you hear that? It’s the rare, sweet sound of silence.
Do you sense it? Peace.
Soak it up, friends.
All will be well.
P.S. Thanks for reading. Now… unplug, for heaven’s sake.