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The lost art of being present

The lost art of being present J. Barbush
I recently attended a conference discussing the second screen and its impact on entertainment. But for the majority of the crowd, there seemed to only be a single screen in focus. The one in their hand.

Many of us are guilty of this type of behavior. Our devices stream in and stream out, and sometimes we lose sight of the experience before our eyes.

The idea of being present is one of the foundational principles of yoga: to simply “be” in the moment you are experiencing. Not to think about the past or future. Not to offer editorial on top of it.

Problem is, our society wasn’t built to be present. Instead, we prepare preschoolers for college, think about how our new product will influence the one after that, and focus on the next matchup, instead of enjoying today’s victory. When we do finally stop to savor a milestone, it is by conscious measure. Then, we wish it away and reach for the next rung.

Being present is even harder for those of us in social media. We have a self-guided perception that we need to spread our moments to others. The carrot of a #hashtag or the elusive Klout score makes the editorial layer of life even harder to resist. Social currency can be more valuable than the real stuff.

We constantly hear that technology can connect people. But does it? And if so, has the definition of “connect” changed as well? Arguably, our devices seem to distract and disconnect us from the moment with emails, texts, etc. But increasingly they also create an anxiety to hyper-connect to it. There is a drive to capture every elusive moment through a snapshot, status update, check-in and/or tweet, leaving nothing to our own memory. In other words, we never truly experience the moment because we are too busy logging it and coaching it along our social graph.

Follow me on this: The Rolling Stones recently announced a return to stage. Arguably the hottest ticket of the year, and you landed one. But there’s a catch: You can’t bring your phone. For many, the elation of attending is met with disappointment by the caveat. Without a pic, tweet, status update or check-in, how will the world know you were there?

Back at the conference, one speaker told of co-viewing and how that is a huge part of the second-screen experience. The next presenter stated that 47% of people in the same living room watch different things. Yes, those two scenarios seem divergent, but maybe they are just a sad irony. Perhaps we have become a society who yearns to connect, yet not with those closest to us.

It’s easy to rationalize that at least multiple screens put families in the same room. But is it enough to simply share a physical space? Is that domestic denominator the new normal? I really hope not.

I’m not suggesting we should all ditch social media, but maybe just set a few boundaries. So I am trying hard to be present and to teach my kids the same. I want the courage to put my phone down occasionally and experience life in real-time. I want to be selfish and enjoy my moment without the pressure of sharing it with others.

Maybe I will forget some details without a photograph, but I’ll have the memory. And maybe my friends won’t realize I was at the Stones without a check-in, but I’ll know. And to me, that’s the most important graph to ignite. My own.

J earned a degree in Mass Communications and English from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. He landed his first job at MTV News in New York and later moved to California to pursue his childhood dream of a fairer climate.  He came to RPA...

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