There is a fleeting moment when the Sun's last fiery bit of light finally dips below the horizon. Those few seconds are the pinnacle of the sunset, when most of the beautiful oranges, purples, and blues show up. From the balcony of our room at the beach last weekend I soaked in this glorious sight with reverent wonder. I also saw something peculiar about the other people observing it.
My view from the seventh floor was not only a great vantage point for the sunset but an ideal people-watching post. Every single person was facing the sinking Sun in an almost ceremonial fashion. In an equally ritualistic look, most had their arms outstretched in front of them, grasping phones to capture the moment. From the outside looking in, it honestly was a little creepy.
There were several individuals, either taking a picture of the sunset or snapping a selfie. There were tight huddles of people, trying to snag the perfect group picture. Young and old, nine out of ten people had their phone up.
Then I noticed one couple set apart from the rest...They were twenty yards or so off the coast, knee-deep in the water, holding each other close, staring off at the horizon, and occasionally looking at each other to talk or kiss.
At that moment the whole scene truly came into focus.
We trade our presence for a picture. We give up intimacy for an image. We miss the person across from us for a post. We sacrifice our fleeting reality for a virtual version.
There is so much happening around us, and when "sharing" means constantly removing ourselves from the moment, we have a serious problem. We are missing what's happening and limiting the creative potential of what could happen.
This problem is even more scary than the obvious observations, too. Under the surface we are conditioning our brains to participate in an odd dopamine game that I fear isn't just affecting our head but our hearts, also.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that deals with the part of the brain where pleasure and reward are processed. It controls our seeking or craving behavior. It's the motivator that moves us to action that results in pleasure. It's often a stronger sensation than the pleasure itself, which encourages a continuous pattern of seeking. When we realize the satisfaction we receive is temporary, we keep searching. The cycle continues.
Why do we check our phones an average of 150 times per day? Why do we continue scrolling and scrolling for new information on our social media feeds? Why do we love notifications popping up? Why do we feel giddy anticipation when we post a status or picture we think will be well-received?
Dopamine. It encourages our seeking behavior that leads to instant gratification. We can consume and consume as much as we want. We can post and post and receive more and more likes and follows. Pleasure and reward are within our control, and the craving grows. We are in a loop of addictive behavior, and it's not just mental, it's physiological.
If you're interested in more of the details, read here.
Life was not meant to be lived through a tiny, glowing screen. I feel really strongly about this, given the seemingly harmless nature of the devices we tote around with us. The subtle always worries me more than the blatant. C.S. Lewis writes in the Screwtape Letters:
"It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
Don't hear me wrong. I'm not saying, "Get off your phone or the devil's gonna get ya!" Distraction has just become one of our biggest yet most covert enemies.
The safest road to your misery, disillusionment, depression, and failure is a gradual one. The safest road to your relationships falling apart is a gradual one. The safest road to stop experiencing joy and fulfillment is a gradual one. The list goes on.
I'm calling myself out on this one. I feel the lure of capturing the moment, constructing an online presence, receiving the cheap affirmation one notification at a time. The system in and of itself isn't evil, but if we don't guard ourselves against where these patterns can take us, we are going to become an odd group of fully "connected" yet totally alone humans.