Have you noticed how much our parks, neighborhood sidewalks and city avenues have changed in the last decade? Not specifically those actual spaces and pathways, but the posture of the people moving among them? These days it seems that everyone is constantly looking down – transfixed on a device in the palm of his hand.
It wasn’t so long ago that those same people were looking up, or at least ahead, admiring the beauty around them, saying hello to passersby or taking in the town. Now we move along as downward-focused individuals, practically isolated from our present human experience. Like the pull of gravity, screens seem to draw our eyes toward the ground and away from glances with each other. Headphones supplant the sounds of life happening all around us, drowning out nature, laughter or casual “hellos.”
“We are living in the perpetual state of distraction and interruption,” says Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. “That mode crowds out the more contemplative, calmer modes of thinking.”
Is our culture so busy that every walking second needs to be spent typing or swiping? Do we not fill enough time at desks and couches staring at screens that our ambulatory moments must also be digitized? In the name of multitasking we are actually missing out.
Nietzsche said that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,” but these days we are doing so much consuming while we stroll that we leave little space for any great thoughts of our own. When we are constantly looking at what others are doing or what they are telling us, we never have time to think and create ourselves.
“I really believe that if you look at the great monuments of culture they come from people who are able to pay attention, who control their minds,” says Nicholas. “That’s what allows us to think in the highest terms – to think conceptually, think critically, think in very creative ways.”
When we unplug as we amble along, we gain back those moments for focus and contemplation to conceive original thoughts. We see and admire things we never saw before in the physical world. We create opportunities for human connection – even if it is just the pleasant gesture of a stranger. Rather than live constantly tethered downward, we think there should be more counter-cultural gazers looking up. Who knows what we will see and discover?