2015 is quite a strange time. I wholeheartedly believe that one day we will look back upon this particular era of human history as one of major transition; for better or for worse. It was around twenty years ago that households across America were suddenly all gaining access to the internet. It was around ten years ago that social media started ramping up the roles it played in each of our lives, and a few years later, many people across the country started getting “smart phones” with data plans that provide us with nearly constant access to the internet. Living in Colorado, it is easy for me to travel to places without an internet connection (although I am sure there are people working on that right now). However, I imagine that many people in large metro areas, particularly on the East Coast, may go years without traveling to a place that is truly “disconnected”.
It takes a while for society to really process changes as major as this one. For the first few years, following the proliferation of social media and smart phones across the country, it genuinely felt as if I was the only person who was concerned about the potential downsides of this sudden cultural transformation. It wasn’t until a few years later that people started sounding the alarm about topics such as cyberbullying, echo chambers, loss of depth in our conversations, the impact it could have on our friendships, phoniness, and the constant exposure to new information leading to a culture of constant distraction. Having moved from Chicago to Colorado in 2012, I cannot pinpoint the exact time when we as a society actually started addressing this issue. I recognize that I moved from a major city to a place that naturally attracts people that would share my views on this subject.
I am a firm believer is a concept known as “Natural Law“. This philosophy states that there are certain universal truths that apply regardless of setting. By contrast, Moral Relativists believe that what is right and wrong in always relative to the time, place, and circumstance. Over the past couple of years, much has been written, in books, on the internet, about the importance of taking time to “disconnect”. Most of these article remind us of the need to, from time to time, turn off our televisions, computers, smart phones, etc. and spend some time with ourselves. But, this was true even before we had smart phones and social media. Long before social media, Bill Gates would periodically go into complete seclusion for a week at a time. He would refer to these excursions as “think week”s, and use them to develop key ideas.
When I arrived at Turquoise Lake, a mere five miles outside of Leadville, Colorado, what I saw was a perfect place to put this advice into practice. Simply put, it is quiet, but also very scenic. I came to the lake not knowing what to expect. I knew it was a Tuesday, and in the middle of October, and therefore would not likely be crowded. But, with the exception of a storm headed into the area by later in the afternoon, the place was quite tranquil. It is the kind of place people envision when they think about a quiet country mountain getaway.
I decided I would take five minutes, and force myself to do nothing- absolutely nothing! I would not pick up a rock and start throwing it. I would not walk down to the lake. And I certainly would not even touch my iPhone, which was in my pocket at the time. For five whole minutes, all I did was stare at the Lake, the trees, and the mountains in the backdrop.
At the end of these five minutes, I picked up a rock, and wrote the following message. Along with this overarching theme, a series of other ideas flew into my head. For, in life, we all do things that makes us feel alive. Unfortunately, we also have times in our lives when we simply don’t feel alive. Choosing to live means something different for every person. We all have our own individual passions and priorities. But, one thing we all must do, in order to be true to ourselves, is overcome the fear of leaving our comfort zones.
As I watched the storm roll in, I realized that, for many, the first step towards overcoming this fear, and expanding our comfort zones, is exactly what I just did. In our current culture, with TVs in every house, iPhones with music and games, and distractions everywhere, being completely still, completely silent, and without some external stimulation to occupy our minds is well outside the comfort zone for most people.
I have a friend from High School who has A.D.D. And, I do not mean it in that manner in which we over-diagnose A.D.D. in our modern society. He was diagnosed long before they started diagnosing everyone, and seriously has nearly no attention span without medication. One day, we thought it would be interesting to see how long he could do nothing for- absolutely nothing. We all just sat in chairs doing nothing. After a minute or so, we could obviously tell that this was a painful experience for him.
However, for those of us without this issue, when was the last time we actually did spend a whole minute (or five) doing absolutely nothing? How often do we, while waiting in line, or waiting for a train, or waiting for our friend to show up at a bar, instinctively take out our smart phones, and distract ourselves with a game, an unnecessary email check, or social media? Have we all gotten to the point where we cannot spend a minute inside our own brains?
For what I realized is that when we “disconnect”, we are not just disconnecting from the internet, and other distractions. We are actually reconnecting- reconnecting with ourselves. For most of our days, in 2015, for better or worse, we are fixated on an external stimulant. Our minds dwell upon something someone else has chosen for us to think about. It is only when we shut those outside distractions out that our minds are free to wander. It is then that we form our own thoughts, on our own terms. This is something I fear we may have lost in our modern culture. At Turquoise Lake, I found it.