Technology and the Death of Introspection

For a short while, everything stayed the same. We sat with our tea in the early morning hours, talking about the day stretching out before us. My husband delighted me with my favorite question. “So,” he would say, “Tell me what’s in your heart.” And I would sit quietly for a minute feeling and pondering before I answered. It was a lovely ritual, freely invoked among tea and the morning papers.

For a while I still read at night. Schooled on the principle that one’s writing is a direct reflection of the quality of one’s reading, I devoured Eudora Welty, Wally Lamb, Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison. It was not unusual for me to read several books a month. I adored that Oprah Winfrey had a book club and for the first year, I read everything on her list.

But all of that was then, before the hand of technology grabbed our attention with a powerful grip of instant connection that we mistook for instant intimacy. Now, I have to discipline and train myself to wake up and NOT view Facebook, NOT look at my emails first thing. I grit my teeth some mornings as I carry my laptop up the stairs and into my office, where I open my current manuscript and look at the clock. Two hours. Go. And when I have finished writing, I am like the horse that cannot wait to get back to the barn. I open Facebook. Did anyone like what I posted? I fall into cat videos like a drunk stumbling gleefully  into another bar.

Measuring out my life in emails, I race into the self-imposed stress that technology hath wrought. Long ago and far away the memory of “tell me what’s in your heart,” has been replaced by business associates on the opposite end of the country who send communications to my husband, compelling him to reply in what used to be the quiet of early morning.

Over the weekend, as we drove back from a visit to Portland, I realized the slow death that consumed us, the underbelly of the digital beast. Raindrops hit the windshield and the wiper blades slid into rhythm. We put on Simon and Garfunkel– perfect for a rainy day. The words went like this:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
because a vision softly creeping
left its seeds while I was sleeping
and the vision that was planted in my brain
still remains, within the sound of silence.

As the music of our youth allowed the flood gates of life past to open, I recalled how the words of Paul Simon had introduced me to the angst of introspection, an unraveling in the dark quietude that I would come to value.

Today there is no sound of silence within which to contemplate a life or even ask the question of who am I? All of that has been replaced by phones that ping messages, tweets, emails all hours of the day and night. The depth of answer as to who I am has been reduced to a selfie posted on Facebook and an unrelenting connection to WiFi. Look at me, it says: this is who I am. This is what I ate for dinner last night. These are all my “friends,” and not a drop of introspection to be found. How do you become a person without the frightening and courageous act of just being alone with yourself, sans gadgets and media?

Of this death I have to ask, what are the consequences of a life lived without the solitary acts of introspection, reflection and the quiet of contemplation? Is it that we become more like sheep? Everyone NEEDS an i-phone, a tablet, a Facebook page. This is the golden age of self-promotion. That’s how business is done. I know I cannot hang onto the past, but I do not wish to be consumed or lose the value that I long ago assigned to introspection.

The thing about the Paul Simon lyrics is that they harken to a time in my life when I was straddling the worlds of child and adult. Attached to that was a required amount of self-examination served up on a bed of grace-filled angst. I eventually grew into someone who enjoyed my own company, understood my flaws and my gifts and wasn’t afraid to break away from the herd, creatively, politically or emotionally. My psychology was not tied up in how many followers, friends or fans I had, but in how well I knew myself and was true to the self that I was discovering.

My generation had poets that modeled introspection and it was part of our right of passage into adulthood. So again, the question arises: what are the consequences of generations who have not known this process as part of their development? How do they summon and access the deeper resilience that life’s challenges inevitably require? How do they make the all-important distinction between their superficial inner voice that craves social media attention and the deeper, more still voice that speaks its truth in silence? How can a writer capture the state of the human story without first knowing the depths of their own story?

What we give up because of technology, we must learn to reclaim through the expression of the human heart, or our very human-ness is sure to perish. So, think about this before you answer: Tell me, what is in your heart?

Author:

Novelist, essayist, blogger, wife, dog-mommy, dancer, dreamer, grateful.

18 thoughts on “Technology and the Death of Introspection

  1. I hear you on this one. I feel like there is so much noise in our lives now, and while I wouldn’t want to go without the tech innovations we have, I could do with less temptation and distraction in the online world. And I know that’s on me–I just need to step away more–but that’s easier said than done when our work success depends on our ability to promote and network, at least in part, anyway.

    1. So much easier said than done! I promise myself to read more in the evening and then find myself glued to my laptop until bedtime. Like you, I wouldn’t want to give up technology, but I also don’t want to give up the more feeling, sensing part of myself in order to serve the technology. Thanks for coming by, Carrie.

  2. Yup, I have no discipline either. Too much of my time has been spent on Candycrush ( I mean, will I lie on my deathbed reliving the moment I finally completed level 1345????) and my latest addiction, Geoguessr. But perhaps my saving grace is that I never joined Facebook – due to a misconception that I thought you had to have 350 real friends. It didn’t occur to me that only five of those people might be people you had actually met. My other saving grace is that I have a long daily commute by bus and often other travel during the day. And these are the times I stare out the window; sometimes gazing in awe or surprise at the little details of life. Sometimes pondering in an introspective way. Or simply snoozing 🙂

    1. Bus and train rides are great for that–if you aren’t attached to a cell phone. I find great comfort in just watching the landscape of my world go by, and being surprised, as you say, by the little details of life. I like your story about thinking you had to have 350 “real” friends! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. Powerful stuff Stephanie.

    Yeah, it’s crazy that I see don’t text and drive messages along the freeway. I’m addicted to tech myself and I’ve had to try REAL hard to say hello to my wife before rolling over to my cell phone. Blah.

    Thanks for checking me here! 😉

  4. Thank you for this wonderful essay. I am now retired, and find it easier to put away those things that cluttered my life. It’s amazing to me how much I can live without. Right now, I am going to contemplate your question, and it may take all day and I may never fully answer. It’s a shame this had to wait for retirement.

    1. Retirement for me, thus far, has been a time of reclamation, a deepening into what is truly important in life. Certainly not having to be so “nose to the grindstone,” slows one’s thoughts and gives one more room for a feeling, sensual world. “What is in your heart,” such a good question for days, weeks years of contemplation, don’t you think? Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful reply.

  5. Beautifully said. I love Paul Simon lyric’s, especially those. I found a setting on my phone which automatically mutes all its pings, rings, and other notifications after a certain time of night and doesn’t return to active service until the following day just so I might better relax at night instead of worrying about all the digital noise I am missing. Because, as Simon also said, I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.

  6. The Sound of Silence
    Haven’t heard it for a long while, severe pain has replaced it and it never shuts up, the pain lives loud in my body.
    Sometimes it gangs up with technology and I literally need to escape. But where to? To the beach across the road, only every step I take hurts!
    My heart is heavy and everything and everyone is noisy.
    Reading can even be noisy because my body won’t be quiet
    Hello Darkness, Hellow Friend
    I long for the sound of sleeping
    Stephanie, it is almost midnight here in Australia
    Sleep awaits once I take care of 2 tablets
    Firstly another pain tablet to help me sleep
    and then get this damn tablet off my lap and put it to sleep
    I love everything you write!!
    Have a grateful day!!!
    Kind regards from Annie in Australia 🌞 🌴 🌊

  7. Wow! Profoundly true! I make an effort everyday to meditate in those wee hours. The connections on Facebook for me now are of those people that augment that endeavor. I’m truly blessed to have some truly wonderful people in my life, albeit I don’t get to see in person often or in one case not at all. But there isn’t any substitute for being alone with oneself. It is vital to hold on to that precious treasure trove.

    1. The early morning hours are my reflective hours too. The world is quiet– and “alone” is, as you say, “a precious treasure trove.” Thank you so stopping by and taking the time to read.

  8. I am new to your site (thank you for liking a couple of my posts, which led me to you..). I so much agree and wrote similar thoughts about a month ago. I call it “silent noise.” Don’t know if this phrase is original to me or not, but even when I turn off all those dings and beeps, they seem to still be running around like rats in my brain. It is very hard to maintain the discipline to sit quietly with ourselves and my hat is off to you for being able to do it.

    1. Technology–it’s a love hate relationship, isn’t it? I cherish quite time away from all the gadgets–and sometimes, as you point out, it’s tough to get away from all the gadgets. Rats in the brain–good one! Thank you for stoping by and taking the time to read. All good wishes. . .

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