Waiting in the Real World

Yesterday I waited over an hour at a grocery store to pick up groceries I ordered online. My phone died after about 20 minutes and I didn’t have a charger. My order should have been done in 10 minutes. But this post isn’t about the customer service or the frustration of the whole experience, it’s about me and my reaction to it.

You see, I was shocked at how impatient and angry I got after my phone died. To just sit there and connect visually with my surroundings with no other distractions while I waited for an hour felt almost impossible. Now, I’ve had some intense experiences of isolation in my life — experiences that I never want to relive. But now I’m wondering if, in my real and perceived fear of isolation (which I’m assuming is why I felt I needed multiple distractions in the moment), I’ve lost the ability to connect with and reflect on my surroundings.

So, after I realized this while sitting in my car, I started watching the clouds and the trees and the people walking to and from the store. Have you ever watched clouds? They’re incredible. They never stop moving and re-forming into delightful new shapes and sizes. And studying the different angles and curves of tree leaves and bark can actually be quite intriguing. Also, people-watching (in a non-creepy way, mind you) can be quite fascinating. Where are they from? Where are they going? What are their stories?

But you know what I realized as I intentionally focused on these things? Honest, emotionally beneficial reflection on your surroundings is like a muscle — you have to exercise it for it to be any use to you or others and mine has woefully atrophied over the past few years.

I had another experience this week that got me thinking about our connection to the online world, too. An associate at a local Apple store walked me through a kid’s coding demo. It was insightful and intriguing, but what he said to me as I left the store gave me pause: “It’s good for your kids to know this coding language because this,” he said motioning to him and me, “this human interaction is in the past. The online world and its language is the future.” Based on that demo, I don’t doubt it.

Anyway, there’s much more to be explored about this and I’m sure there are some wise men and women who have researched and written about this phenomenon and all its moral and psychological implications. Maybe I’ll read their books and articles some day. And, yes, I realize the irony of using this platform for this post. Am I against all distractions in the online world? Not at all. Am I promoting some kind of nomadic lifestyle? Nope. I’m simply recognizing how constant access to online distractions can subtly re-wire a person’s brain to ignore the wonder and potential relationships all around them. At least that’s what it’s been doing to me lately.

I do shudder to think, however, of what might happen to human beings if/when technology progresses to the point where we can choose to embody a man-made replicated world over the world we were created to live in. The possible negative consequences are worth serious consideration. That is, if we can put our phones down long enough to reflect on it all.

Photo by Liam Charmer on Unsplash