As I was driving through Tuscany, I stumbled upon a stunning sunflower field. Awed, I got out of the car and stood at its edge. Even on my tip-toes, the field extended far beyond my horizon; rows and rows of sunflowers larger than my face bowed towards a setting sun that bathed them a golden yellow.
I eagerly held up my phone to take a photo (I guiltily admit it was for Instagram), only to realize that the lighting wouldn’t do the shot justice. Phone in hand, I thought, what to do now?
It’s funny that nowadays that’s even a question that pops in our mind.
I’d imagine that 40 years ago, the young 20-something traveler would have just… looked. Taken the sight in, appreciated it, and contemplated its beauty.
While traveling, I’ve become hyper-aware of how much technology gets in the way of the human experience. Technology can be incredibly important and useful – without it, I couldn’t have so easily connected with people who would host me for my couch-surfing journey around the world. Perhaps because of its usefulness, however, we tend to forget how much of our time and attention technology can consume.
I’m ashamed to admit how often I’ve gone through a panoramic landscape and instead of looking out and appreciating my surroundings, I was hunched over my phone, texting someone or checking Facebook.
Think about it – how many hours a day do you spend in front of your technology? More so, what percentage of those hours are you partaking in an activity that does not directly contribute to a meaningful purpose (eg. Internet surfing, Facebooking, reading articles on the Kardashians)? I raise my hand. I’m guilty. And I’m also determined to do something about it.
For all the good technology does, it also inhibits us from being present. The best moments cannot be photographed. The deepest conversations cannot be texted. The most moving music loses a piece of magic when it is digitized.
Technology is meant to be used as an instrument; the second that instrument begins to use us, we lose our intuition and perhaps even a bit of our humanity.
There is a time and a place for technology. When used moderately and with purpose, it helps us achieve our goals faster and more efficiently. When used gratuitously – which tends to be the default for younger generations – it becomes a distraction. It dilutes the richness of the life we could be living if we only put our phones down and stopped to literally smell the roses.
I am just at the beginning of my journey around the world (hello from Tuscany!). I’ve quickly understood that to truly live it at its fullest, I have to put my gadgets away or drastically limit my use of them.
I am trying a little experiment to increase the quality, rather than quantity, of my technology use: take less photos and make them count; put my phone completely away during meals, especially if I’m eating with someone; limit my texting and phone checking to designated times throughout the day. Writing on my laptop is always fair game, but “surfing” the Internet will be kept to a minimum.
Limiting technology’s power over us will free pockets of time in our days that we may have forgotten existed. Instead of spending those 20 minutes browsing through people’s timelines, try meditating. Instead of reading about the Kardashians, take a walk outside. Instead of texting novels to your friends, meet them for coffee instead.
Time in the real world liberates us to set our priorities straight and focus on what’s important. That may ironically be your tech startup. But a machine can’t tell you that.