In by John Henning

Putting your phone in your pocket, and looking up at the world around you, can have a bigger impact than you realize — increased awareness of others can lead to stronger feelings of connection, which can help reach the ultimate goal: Harmony.

I’m sure you’ve seen it: people hunched over their phones, weaving through crowded sidewalks, oblivious to their surroundings, while they read emails, check Instagram, play Fortnite or scroll through the news. Maybe it’s only me, but I find this behavior both dangerous for the person doing it, and unbelievably annoying for myself and everyone else who must negotiate around them! And while some may say I worry too much (and at times I agree), it may be surprising to know that what keeps me up at night isn’t concern about financial stability, commerce, wealth generation, taxation policy or international relations – but rather, the loss of awareness and connectedness I see in our society.

It’s my assertion that with the modern advances in technology and constant access to information, and an increased dependency on devices that keep us “plugged in” at all times, we are becoming less aware of our immediate surroundings and hence less connected to each other as human beings. As much angst as I feel from the bombastic approach of our national leaders, it’s the constant barrage of “news,” served in bits and bytes that bombard us all day long that feel like tiny cuts by a razor blade.

Slowly but surely, this unending information feed is draining us of our energy, creativity and excitement about the possibilities before us. In its place is a drip of doom and gloom, whose only purpose is to make us worry more and buy our way out of our misery with multitude of products and services being thrust in front of us via sponsored ads that support the great machine of commerce.

Awareness. It’s that simple and profound experience of taking a minute and absorbing the benefits of every sense we possess. No TV, phone, iPad, computer, Facebook page, Instagram or Snapchat can convey as much information to our minds and bodies at once as we can take in with our own senses. Looking up is the way humans were designed to function. Looking towards the horizon, watching out for our families, keeping an eye on the opportunities and dangers in front of us is what kept us occupied and connected with each other.  Our very spines were designed to spread out and stack in a way that holds our heads high and absorbs the shock of every day transport and living.

Awareness begins with looking up. What comes after awareness is empathy and connection. When looking up, we begin to really see our fellow brethren, all doing their best to navigate this thing called life. We start to see ourselves as a part of a larger community, rather than disconnected individuals all going it alone. And when we feel we are part of something, we start to care about it and think beyond ourselves. This is when harmony has a chance to appear.

Harmony is a lofty goal, but we should not shy away from the goal of being in harmony with our communities – even those who seem different from us, or worse, seem indifferent to or actively against us. But we can’t begin to hope for harmony without awareness of one another. When our senses are pre-occupied with looking down at a tiny device and listening to a constant stream of sounds that is not part of our shared environment, we cannot truly connect.

Despite the promises of Facebook, Instagram Twitter, LinkedIn to connect us to one another, let me ask you this: does the distraction these tools provide really make us feel better? Are we really more informed? I want to subscribe to a balanced view of how to integrate the wonders of technology into my daily life, but part of that for me is making sure to maintain my sense of self, as a human, apart from these artificial ties. There may be a day in the future when true connection with others can be forged with remote sensors, computers, networks and other indirect communication, but I assert: that day has not yet arrived. In order for us to remain happy, healthy and connected we need to stop and look up.Take the time to look in the eyes of passers by, of people you live, work and love with.

Go ahead and keep your phone, and don’t make any rash decisions to disengage from technology if it’s useful to you, but be deliberate about when and how you engage with it.

Look up and walk around town with a new curiosity about what’s around the corner, who you might see, what you might be interested in, and the opportunities and threats that surround you. Take the head phones off, leave the cell phone in your pocket and look up. Just look up. You’ll be amazed at what you find when you can see and even hear.  Who knows, you might even end up touching someone without running into them!

And when you just can’t help yourself and need to look down, just be a good sport, and pull over to the side so the rest of us can move on.