Lately, I have been more and more inclined to savor the quiet moments in life. Perhaps it’s because I get so few of them as a father of four active young boys. I’ve grown to appreciate what it means to slow down and really think, ponder a big decision or intensely study a single subject.
But it can be difficult to make those times happen. In today’s American culture, we are continuously bombarded with messages and ideas that are intended to influence our behavior. The competition for our dwindling attention span is at an all-time high. For instance, when you drive down the street, you likely see billboards or signs on buses and trucks. Walk into church, and television screens flash announcements, and a smiling usher places a full-color bulletin into your hand. Right here in this magazine, many hours of time and attention are spent ensuring that these pages are pleasant to view and the content inside makes its way off the page and into your mind.
Much of this is advertising. And the purpose of these ads is often to repeat a phrase over and over again until the very mention of it makes you think about a particular brand. “Just do it.” “The few. The Proud. The Marines.” “Can you hear me now?” I bet you instantly knew what product or organization was behind each of these phrases.
It is true that there is nothing new about using advertising to saturate our brains with an idea or a message. It’s been done for years. In some cases, being part of an advertisement is a reward. I can’t help but laugh when I think of the episode of “Seinfeld” where Kramer settles his lawsuit against a tobacco company in exchange for his face becoming the Marlboro Man-style centerpiece of a giant Times Square billboard.
But what has changed recently is the way we are willingly choosing to expose ourselves to more and more of these messages. Through our phones (which are really handheld computers that might occasionally make a phone call), we have the world at our fingertips 24 hours a day, seven days week. So while my family has made a concerted effort to reduce the amount of television we watch, we are often glued to our own screens in its place. My phone or my iPad is often the last thing I see before bed and usually the first thing I check in the morning. Update my feed, read the news, catch up on the posts … there are thousands of ways to interact with information through your device. This personalized consumption of media is even the best way to keep up with the president of the United States.
While none of these things is inherently bad, I do want to challenge you. One of my goals for 2018 is to put down the electronic devices more often and spend more time with the people I know and love. I’ve come to realize that liking each other’s photos on Facebook is not a real relationship. It’s only flattery, not friendship. All too often, our online experience is really about affirming our own insecurities rather than investing in others. And in the limited time we have here on this Earth, I’d like to be known for the difference I make in real people’s lives — not for how many Facebook friends I have.
The next time you go to a restaurant, take a look at how many people are staring at their phones instead of enjoying the company of a friend. The electronic glow will sometimes light up a dim atmosphere. Perhaps your new year’s resolution can be to put the device in your pocket or your purse and put the glow of happiness on the face of your fellow man. I don’t think you will regret it.