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The Ultimate Wi-Fi: How to Connect Beyond Technology
In my efforts to blend the path of wisdom and the path of technology, I often wondered why it was so hard at times to be away from my cell and computer. I asked myself why, when I forgot my cell upon leaving my house, did it feel like an emergency, and did I find myself thinking, “God, I need my phone. How can I be out and not reachable? What will I do now?"
In most of these situations, there was little real difficulty as a result of forgetting my cell for the time I was out. The calls I received in that time could easily be returned later, and if needed I could always (God forbid) use a pay phone to call someone. What interested me was the feeling of lack and incompleteness when I was not on my computer or with my cell. To better understand this, I realized that I first had to pay more attention to my experience when I was using them.
I discovered that when I was online, even if I was not logged in to a social network or chatting with someone, I felt connected to other people. There was a sense of being part of something bigger than me, of not being alone. The fact that I was online gave me a sense of belonging. It was the same with my cell phone. Even if I was not using it, by having it on me and knowing I was reachable, I felt linked to other people. Essentially, I viewed technology as what connected me to others and made me feel less alone.
This, I learned, was actually the root of my difficulty and addiction. If I viewed technology as what connected me, then it was only logical that when I was not engaged with it, I would feel disconnected. In seeing this, I better understood this feeling of lack. I realized it was no wonder I clung to technology so tightly, no wonder it was so hard to turn off my computer, no wonder I felt so lonely when away from my gadgets. I mean, who wants to be away from their source of connection? This is why when people suggest we spend less time online or on our cells, we often think, "What! And be disconnected? No way." We want connection, not disconnection.
See connection as perception
These technologies, of course, provide many useful functions in our life, allowing us to conduct business, read news, communicate with friends and express our opinions with people around the globe. On a function level, they are fantastic. However, at a deeper level, as incredible as they are, they are also empty. Empty of what? Empty of inherent meaning, of providing us true connection or satisfaction.
This is no problem of technology; it is not that Facebook, MySpace and Apple need to create better ways for us to connect — they are doing a fine job at what they do. It is instead because nothing external can ever satisfy this need. This is simply how the universal social network of life was set up. These devices are extraordinary when we look to them to provide various functions, and utterly disappointing when we seek true connection in them. This requires something else.
For example, we can enter a grocery store and feel connected to the cashier, or not; we can walk through an apple orchard and feel connected to the trees and birds, or not; we can participate in an online social network and feel connected to other users, or not. We can never touch a cell phone or go online and feel connected to ourselves and the world, or spend 10 hours a day online and not feel this connection. Technology is not what determines this; how we view and relate to the world does. This is an important tool: See connection as perception.
Find connection in yourself
The great myth, of course, is that our inner world does not matter and that technology, particularly the online world, can satisfy this need through providing news, social networks and entertainment. I mean, what else do we need, right? I’m sorry to be the one to break the myth, but there is more to life. At some level you have always known this. You too have felt this same lack, this same disconnection, even after you spent hours and hours “connected” online. This experience can be confusing since it is so rarely acknowledged in our culture. Unlike cigarettes, our devices and social networks do not come with warnings on them such as: “Beware. Use this only for its function. It cannot provide true connection. We are not responsible for any feelings of lack you may experience.” It would be nice if they did, but I don’t see this happening.
When we do experience this lack, we often think, "Since I felt connected while online and now I do not, the answer must be to always be online and connected. This way, I will never feel lonely." We were often lonely while online as well; we just did not notice it. In an odd way, this desire to be connected all the time is right on the mark. Of course we want to be connected! However, though we are right that the answer is to always be connected, we are wrong to believe that technology can provide it. The answer, instead, is to expand our view of what it means to be connected, to see that it comes from us.
When we fail to see this, everything else in our life is set up in contrast: playing with our child, time with our parents, a hike out in nature, sex with our partner ... or doing just about anything else will always take a backseat to the gadgets in our lives. This view is what so often prevents us from seeing choice and is at the root of our habitual and addictive relationship. It is why when walking in a park with a friend we will always answer our cell when it rings, and why four friends can be at a café together yet all of them are talking on cell phones or IMing on their computers.
Connection through technology trumps the connection possible with the people in our physical environment because of our view that the former provides true connection. Ironically, though we are constantly connected to technology, we are also constantly missing true connection because we are looking for it in devices, in the external, instead of in our perception, or the internal. If we do not see this, we spend much of our day in a state that I call disconnectedly connected; we are connected to technology but largely disconnected from ourselves.
Awaken your consciousness
However, before you toss your computer over the balcony or throw your cell in the river and head for the woods to fast and meditate in order to find true connection, know that there is another option. When we see that nothing external can satisfy this need, we can then express this connection in all aspects of our life, including via technology. What does this mean? One simple exercise to illustrate this is to make your hand into a fist. Please do this now, focusing very little attention on the action. Now, make your hand into a fist again, but this time direct your attention to your hand and the process of closing it into a fist. Feel the energy in your fingers, notice the shift as they fold, feel the pressure as they do. Bring consciousness to this act.
The difference in this simple experience was the amount of consciousness you applied to the act. Though this may seem like a very small difference, it significantly changes our relationship to any experience. We can notice this when someone touches us too. When a person puts her hand on our back with unconsciousness and frustration, we can feel it, even if no words are spoken. Our body usually reacts by tightening and trying to get away. On the other hand, when she puts her hand on our back consciously and with care, we also feel it. Our body usually responds by softening and melting into the touch. The placement of the hand on our back may be the same, but the level of consciousness coming through the touch is quite different.
Nothing is particularly connecting or significant about making our hand into a fist or someone putting a hand on our back. In the same way, nothing is truly connecting about sending an e-mail or talking on our cell. However, we can infuse these acts with true connection through our consciousness. We could say that it is not in but through technology (or anything else) that true connection is found. It does not come from any device or gadget, but since connection is everywhere we are present, this of course includes such devices.
With this knowledge, we expand our sense of what it means to be connected, so it is not limited to technology. We can then be connected when home alone with no one to talk to, by ourselves in the woods, talking to the teller at the bank and chatting online with our friends. Only then have we discovered true connection, what we may call “the ultimate Wi-Fi.”
Apply to life
The next time you are out without your cell (or if this never happens, try leaving it at home sometime), open yourself to a bigger sense of connection. When you engage with someone you do not know, such as the cashier at a grocery store, be present with that person. Open your mind to the possibility that something connects the two of you. In doing this, you don’t have to gaze deeply into the person’s eyes or invite him out for tea or to be your friend on a social network. No need to tell him, “I am connecting to you.” He may call security. You are also not trying to create a connection. It already exists. You are merely opening your mind to see it. See if, by doing this, a sense of connection overflows to other areas of your life.
From Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected by Soren Gordhamer. Copyright © 2008 by Soren Gordhamer. Reprinted by permission of author and HarperOne.