Get up aboard a train or a bus or even just at the stations and bus stops. Just look around.
Count the people absorbed with their phones and/or iPads. And then count the people who are doing absolutely nothing at all.
Chances are almost everyone is plugged in or preoccupied with some sort of technology. Everyone, regardless of age or gender, is hooked to the little lighted screen in their palms. There will be people playing these absolutely mindless games on their phones and iPads. There will be people responding to 100 messages on their 10 different Whatsapp groups at the same time. There will be people mind-numbingly scrolling through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And there will be the TV junkie watching episode after episode of their Korean or Taiwanese dramas.
Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is wonderful. It really is so super efficient and it takes communication to a whole new level. But while it does this, it takes a lot more out of us than we thought. We give it so much more than we think we do. And it scares me.
This just suddenly hit me because I’ve been travelling a lot of late to get to my driving lessons twice a week. I spend about 45 minutes to an hour commuting on the train and I’m just overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who are occupied by their phones and iPads.
Ask yourself: When was the last time you spent time waiting for something, allowing yourself to be bored and resisting the itch to check your Facebook or to play a game just to combat boredom? Yes, when was the last time you were bored?
Why’s it important to be bored, you may ask. It’s just a waste of time. You can look at it this way: Boredom could be a waste of time but the alternative, constant engagement with something, however mindless, is in a sense, dehumanising.
There is too much stimulation going on. It’s infiltrated into these mundane routines of commuting or waiting that we find it hard to live without. It’s shocking.
My mother who teaches in school, once joked that while kids today are no longer afraid of detention or other traditional forms of discipline, they become angels when they are threatened to have their phones taken away from them. “It’s like their oxygen tanks.” Mum had said. “Without it, they can’t breathe.”
Because of this constant engagement, we find it hard to be still, to be silent and to be bored. I think that being still is something we need to learn and re-learn. It is important to quiet ourselves and gather our thoughts, all the more so in such a fast-paced society.
I personally find quiet me-time precious. It is when I can tune out from this cluttered world that we can exercise this incredible thing called imagination. A lot of things can be blamed for the lack of imagination, especially the education system. But imagination can’t be taught, it has to be cultivated. Like a plant. If it can be taught, it wouldn’t be creative anymore. If you cannot spend about 15 minutes doing absolutely nothing, chances are you’re out of touch with your imagination because you only use it when you’re bored and your mind tries to find a way around it. If you don’t get bored, it withers and dies, never to come alive again. And I say ‘again’ because everyone has this imagination. No one’s born without it.
Ideas can only hit you when you allow your thoughts, feelings, impressions and experiences to reside and bubble in the melting pot of your imagination. From it flows what I think of as art. For me, they come out in stories and for a writer, these are precious. Ideas wouldn’t hit you the same way twice if you’re placed in another time or place.
Even if it’s not an idea you’re looking for, just being still, resting your mind, can yield a bout of self-discovery, for instance. Contemplating yourself. And if you’re not even into that, into being curious and finding out more about yourself, then… well I have nothing to say.
Also, to parents with them toddlers from 0-5 years old, keep these things away from the kids. Seriously. We don’t want these kids to grow up expecting constant stimulation and instant gratifications. They become very distracting in the classroom. They become restless and they expect to be entertained every minute of their lives. I implore you not to use the tablet and the phones to keep a child quiet in the restaurant or to behave. If they can’t go out without making a scene, don’t go out.
Just take this challenge, I dare you, especially if you’re a teen and you’re swept up by technology. Go unplugged. Take off the headphones. Switch off the Wifi and the 3G. Keep your phones and tablets in your pockets and bags. Just sit and wait. Listen. Rest. Observe people around you. Be sensitive to your surroundings.
I’m not saying I’m not absorbed in technology. Once in a while, I do binge on social media and I find myself getting very addicted to my Facebook and Instagram. It’s alarming how I wake up and the very first thing I do is to get on the phone and check my messages. That’s why I’m writing this.
THIS HAS TO STOP.
Go on. I dare you. Go on a Technology fast. Go live life in the real world for a bit.
You know, just in case you’ve forgotten how.