Living in This, The Real World

Right now an infectious disease spreads across our conflict-laden globe.  It’s been around since the emergence of civilization, but has recently grown in size and strength. This disease, this threat to life on earth, hides in plain sight; in bedrooms, parks, schools, places of worship and work.  This disease, dear comrades, is estrangement from this, the real world.

Libba Cotten Bike and Ped path connecting Carrboro and Chapel Hill, NC

Those afflicted fail to sense, to perceive, to make memories, to build coherent life narratives. They’re mired in a virtual reality, a world of human and machine construction. We know them by their addictions – be they video games, social media, the internet. They’re perpetually “tuned in”; the growing hordes who are pale of skin, hunched of back, frail of frame.

Perhaps worst of all, they’re opting out of life – real, sensual, difficult, vital life. How should we define our place in the world if we’re wholly unaware of who shares that world with us – humans and nonhumans alike? What does detachment from each other and from nature mean for human identity?

We first confront the world with our animal senses. We then use our senses to form perceptions.  And we employ our perceptions of experiences to form memories. Then at at last, we arrange our memories to inform how we think and feel.

Without “sensing” something, it’s as if that something never happened. It’s as if your friend waved to you from across the street while you were too damn busy staring at your idevice. You didn’t sense or perceive your friend’s presence, so it’s as if the encounter never happened. It’s as if life, real life never happened.

Senses help us make sense of where we’ve been and where we’re headed. So maybe that’s where we begin to “turn the tide.” Once we lift our heads from our devices, turn our eyes away from our screens, we “re-attune” to the flow of living. We sense what goes on inside and outside ourselves.  We suddenly notice the interplay of birds above our heads. We take in the tone and content of our friend’s speech.

It’s possible that re-connection with the real world begins with “re-appreciation.”  A respect for that which is touchable and felt: the hand-written letter; the face-to-face conversation; even the mindful phone discussion when our attention wraps around the human on the other end of the line. Appreciation of an evening stroll through your neighborhood; a hike in the nearby woodland; the paddle down river; the countryside- and cityscape-imbibing bike ride. The appreciation of birdsong and ground squirrel acrobatics and hawk circling and deer prancing.

From appreciation springs forth intention. A motivation to live, to be in the moment in this place and time. Stalwarts of yoga might call this practice “centering.” A “grounding.” A place-bound “rootedness.” A re-entering of our lifeworld.  A savoring of the world using all of our animal senses. It relates to living this life in the real world. The actual, sensual world. Something the screen-riddled virtual world will never replicate.

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  • Jefftown37

    This post is a clarion call, Seth. Well-written.

    The “life narrative” concept especially hits home. The narrative arcs of our lives get mired in the lingering fog of the “eternal present” of digital media information consumption.

    Messy, organic human interactions are converted into structured processes auto-tuned by digital media and misguided rationalizing of value. Examples include:

    * texting in lieu of spoken conversation;
    * dating apps that reduce attraction and romance to “swipe right”;
    * college admissions procedures that compel applicants to “collect” extracurricular activities and see anything less than academic perfection as failure;
    * Facebook’s transformative forces: of friendship into an enumeration, of emotional response into a limited set of emojis, and of crisis sympathy into an aggrandizing photo background;

    Perhaps another way to look at the “replacing value with process” theme you explored earlier.

    • SethLaJ

      Thanks for sharing your cogent insights, Jeff. Your notion of “misguided rationalizing of value” rings true. The time-weathered perspective that technological “progress” is and should always be perceived as such. This might explain my attraction to Illich’s concept of “rests” or reinvigorations of prior patterns of living. If cultivated and championed, these rests or “remnants” might serve to overshadow some of the more damaging social and personal-growth suppressing effects of digital media.