When was the last time someone asked you for directions?
Today, as I was unlocking my bike outside the cafe, a woman approached me and asked for directions to the nearest post office. The request caught me off guard. Realizing that after six months in Los Angeles the location of a post office was still a mystery to me I apologized for my inability to help and she walked back to her car.
She had been driving, pulled over, and got out to approach a complete stranger and ask for directions.
As I began to ride away I replayed the moment in my mind. Such an idea was both foreign and familiar. I soon realized that with the advent of the smartphone, gps, and mobile broadband there ceased to be a need for people to ask strangers for directions. Whether the women whom had approached me had a dead battery or was lacking a cell phone entirely it beyond me. What I do understand is that, whether we’re able to identify it or not, most modern conveniences are both a blessing and a curse.
Having an iPhone in your pocket eliminates two possibilities: 1) that you will ever get lost on a road trip and 2) that you will ever meet your soulmate by asking for directions. When we have a pocket full of answers we cease to feel the need to discuss, debate, and explore. In fact, the constant state of connectedness is actually damaging our brains.
Epipheo Studios did a wonderful job of highlighting this reality.
There’s no need to throw your computer out of the window, microwave your phone, or look for real estate under a large rock. The connection is not the problem — our reliance on it is. The good news is that, with practice, anyone can learn to overcome this addiction. Some years ago I was bragging about the sixteen hours I spent in front of my computer each day as I built my first businesses. What I wasn’t able to see at the time was how much that ‘hustle regimen’ was damaging my creativity, my productivity, my relationships, my body, and so on. In time, I discovered the benefits of investing in breaking this reliance.
I started with a morning routine. I began waking up at the same time and would intentionally avoid my phone as I prepared for the day. I started writing before answering emails. I started daily meditation using the Headspace app (iTunes / Android). I stopped keeping my phone within arms reach of my bed. I stopped watching videos during my lunch. I stopped incessantly checking my notifications to pass the time. Some weeks are better than others, but the constant practice of this control keeps me in check. While my use of technology hasn’t changed much — my relationship with it has.
In the moment this woman asked me for directions I realized just how far down the rabbit hole we had fallen.
There will be some elements of the human experience that will never be the same and that’s not a bad thing — it’s just a reality. The key to maintaining our humanity is remembering why we sought these conveniences in the first place. We joined Facebook to stay in touch with our friends yet, even in their presence, we find ourselves staring at our phones for ten minutes to edit and tag the photo that was just taken. We’ve become so addicted to the virtual would that we often cease to live in the real one.
The next time you go to pull your phone out of your pocket ask yourself, “why do I need this right now?”
If you need a little more motivation, check out the ‘Stanford marshmallow experiment‘. I think you’ll see the connection.