As I drove out of my neighborhood one day last week, I passed a teenage boy riding his bike. He wore no helmet and had one hand on the handlebars, one on his phone while his eyes were fixed to the screen as he rode. He did not once look up in the time it took me to pass him, riding along oblivious to the beautiful day happening around him, numb to the present moment.
Before the days of information instant gratification, people wondered. How far is planet Earth from the sun? Which country is the capuchin monkey indigenous to? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? Nowadays if someone says, “I wonder what (fill in the blank), a mobile device is out within 2.2 seconds with someone finding the answer. Time is of the essence! Google lets you know in a short 1.03 seconds that it takes an average of 252 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. I am amazed that someone took the time to figure that out and post it on the web. Yes, we can get tons of information in the blink of an eye, but what are we losing in exchange?
Think back to conversations prior to these magic little boxes. If someone pondered aloud a thought such as how many licks to the center of a pop, instead of seeking to find the answer, it might trigger an amusing childhood memory or other story. Where before, one thought could lead to another until you are in completely different place than where you started, now the impetus for a stimulating conversation has been answered, dealt with and crossed off the list. Even the quality of conversation has diminished; people frequently don’t make eye contact, choosing instead to keep their focus on the screen in their hand.
In wondering, the mind is allowed to wander. In this wandering, new connections can be made and old ones remembered once again. It is often cited that keeping the mind active can protect one from Alzheimer’s or dementia. If that’s the case, what are the long-term effects of having these magic little boxes do our thinking for us? Are we truly better off with the advances in technology?
I don’t know the answer. I include myself in the ranks of those allowing my electronic habits to keep me from the present moment, from allowing my mind the space to wander. That makes me sad. So for today, I’m making an effort to put down the electronics and engage directly with those I encounter, to have meaningful contact with those I love. Maybe, day by day, it will become a habit. And maybe, at least for a little while, I will just allow myself to wander – and wonder.