In this plugged in, hyper-connected world, we need time to give our minds a break. I’m going to make a case here that we need to unplug to create sacred spaces. I can say that I am a “digital immigrant,” which means that I grew up before the World Wide Web, smart phones, and social media. Although we had our video games and some folks had home computers (including me as a young teen), we were not “connected” like we are these days. So, I remember a “Before.” It’s odd that, as time goes on, the younger generation will not know of “Before.”
It’s like, for me, there have always been cars so I can’t imagine riding in a horse-drawn wagon through the elements for days to go a hundred miles. I think many “Millennials” and others who have grown up as “digital natives” might think of unplugging for a while like trying to ride a horse to visit a friend instead of driving. Why would anyone want to do that?? So, the younger generation might not see the benefit, nor the need, to disconnect from tech. But I think it’s critical that we all unplug to create sacred spaces.
Why Unplug to Create Sacred Spaces?
Our brains evolved over millions of years to live in a world very different from the world that we live in today. We basically lived in small, nomadic, hunter-gatherer tribes for 1 to 2 million years. Then along came the agricultural revolution which changed society drastically about 12,000 years ago. Thus, from an evolutionary standpoint, we are ALL digital immigrants. For most of our existence as sapiens:
- All social interaction took place face-to-face.
- We lived in small groups of less than 150 people.
- We ate NO processed foods.
- We were not sedentary given that we were hunters and gathers.
- We generally slept at night, when we were tired, and awoke when our bodies & brains were rested.
- We spent ALL of our time in nature – we were very much a part of it.
- Life was relatively quiet most of the time – no earbuds with music playing, no digital noises, no traffic, airplanes, and so on. The only sounds we heard were from nature and each other.
Connection to Others and Ourselves
In order to connect with other people in the manner for which nature evolved us, we need periods of quiet. There is good reason to believe that our use of technology can hinder our ability to empathize with others. This empathy is critical to the development of strong social connections. Importantly, much of our happiness, up to 70% by some estimates, is dependent upon the quality of our social relationships. The stronger our social connections, the happier we tend to feel. In contrast, we tend to feel fairly unhappy when we feel disconnected, isolated, alienated, or are in conflict.
Thus, it is critical for us to unplug to create sacred spaces so that we can develop greater levels of empathy which, in turns, allows us to connect with others better. Moreover, in order to develop a coherent sense of self, we need quiet time to ponder and reflect. MIT’s Dr. Sherry Turkle brilliantly discusses this in her most recent book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Having a coherent, stable sense of self also helps us to interact with others effectively.
Attention and Productivity
To be productive in life (and connect with others!), we must be able to maintain focused attention. In our hyper-connected world, we have grown accustomed to jumping from one information bit to another: from tweet, to text, to Facebook, to news push notification, to checking the weather, to listening to our favorite music or playing our favorite game, and so on. When we unplug to create sacred spaces, we give ourselves time to reflect, experience awe, and pay mindful attention to whatever we choose. By practicing focused attention, we can become better at managing it. We can pay attention to what matters most in life – to each other, face-to-face.
In my next blog, I will provide some tips on how to unplug to create sacred spaces.