When I was a boy of about 8 or 9 years old, I remember that I could spend an afternoon in complete joy using little more than sunshine, a bright blue plastic sword, and my imagination. I’m not sure that I always appreciated the majesty of my imagination, but whenever I got into it, I managed to have a good time. There were times, however, that didn’t feel like rainbows, kittens, and sunshine.
I grew up in a household without TV, and I can still remember the palpable disdain I would feel when I would express my undying boredom to my mom, only to be met with the horrific idea that I should “go outside” or worse “read a book.” Sorry, Mom, I know kids in your day had to walk 3 hours to school and everything, but this is 1995, and books are for old people.
See imagination was my toy at home. My family had migrated to America when I was 4 so that my dad could pursue his career as an astrophysicist. We moved to the suburbs of upstate New York, and I befriended a boy who lived around the block, his name was Julien.
Julien was more fortunate than me, Julien’s family had many alternatives to using my stupid imagination. His house was littered with TVs, one in every room, almost one for every person, as there were 7 of them in total and the house was quite large. They also had this magic box called a Super Nintendo, and when I sat in front of that gray and purple piece of wonderment, the little controller in my tiny hands, all the troubles an 8-year-old boy could have just vanished. Suddenly leveling up, searching for my princess and jumping over Koopas became my primary directives, most of which holds constant as I write this as a child of almost 31.
As alluring as the magic box was, Julien and I still managed to find time to enjoy our imagination. From Lego wars that lasted all summer, with tiny pieces strewn across the lawn and occasionally falling prey to the lawnmower, weedwhacker or leafblower, to the giant hole we dug in the woods for absolutely no reason beyond the joy of a good afternoon’s shoveling, imagination was alive and well, and we accessed it when we felt like it.
It was a much different experience for me than when I was at home, where imagination felt thrust upon me for lack of a better option. I was always dreaming and playing in spite of myself, mentally mapping out my quest for lack of a 32-bit cartridge with a functional save feature.
Eventually, my parents caved and provided my sister and I with the television who would quickly become my hiding place from my own potential. Why go outside and explore my own consciousness when Judge Judy is on? How exciting can the front lawn be when Oprah is giving away BRAND NEW CARS?
My blue sword could never match the intrigue of Maury Povich’s TV special “5 men one woman, who may baby daddy?”
Sorry buddy, but entertainment has shown up, and entertainment is more stimulation with less effort, or at least that’s sales pitch when you’re 8 years old and don’t understand why it feels so bad to be by yourself.
Fast forward 20 years and it’s hard to take a shit without social media. Anyone who has pulled the phone out knowing full well the battery is dead and clicked the button while silently praying it would come to life knows that the illusion of connection and the promise of an input are a comfort we’ve become disturbingly reliant on.
Modern business is trying to promote “unplugging” and people are taking “device breaks” and “technology holidays.” That’s great, but this isn’t a technology problem.
All technology has done is make the symptomatic response to a lack of self-love, a face perpetually glued to an electronic screen with an aura of desperation, all the more recognizable and unsettling.
Input addiction is a self-love issue, it’s about being unable to sit quietly with yourself and tap into your imagination.
Knowledge of self and purpose are the life blood of the soul, and the questions “Who am I” and “Why am I here” are older than the apps on our iPhones. So what to do?
It’s wonderful to see movements toward unplugging, public figures like Arianna Huffington starting companies like Thrive Global, aimed at getting people put their devices down to start and end the day, and most importantly when they sit down to speak, eat or just interact with their loved ones.
In my consulting practice, I’ve written articles about managing inputs and devised programs for breaking patterns with technology and forming new, healthier and more beneficial relationships with the fantastic opportunities technology provides us. All of this is great, but how did we get this way? Are we just bad at technology? Monkey brain too predictable and exploitable?
Well yes, but. Yes, we do have somewhat unevolved monkey brains at times, and yes we can unwittingly acquiesce to technology in disadvantageous ways, but the root cause of our tech obsession is our compulsion for avoiding the truth of the present moment.
Anything but a deep breath, just me, myself and I.
Humans need love and connection to survive, and to be alone is to devalue, disembody or otherwise mitigate the experience of our life!
If a person eats lunch in a forest and no likes a photo of the meal on Instagram, is he still hungry?
It’s become this absurd reflexive property where we are dependent on others to validate and confirm our existence. Am I even alive? Does anyone notice? Hi!! I’m over here being awesome, someone please notice!!
So what is the solution? Well, it’s simple and obvious.
Love yourself. Validate yourself. Confirm your own existence. Recognize the good in yourself. Acknowledge the presence of the divine and infinite universe inside of your very soul.
Enjoy the aesthetics of your own fucking lunch, not to mention the taste, texture, and experience.
Ok I know, sounds easy on paper, but how actually? It’s one thing to say “I love myself.” It’s another to believe it, and a distant concept to even imagine to FEEL it. We’ve all FELT love, but how many among us have genuinely felt the sensation, the warm embrace, the transcendent moment where you could die with a smile, while just experiencing life as you are and without the reflection of yourself in the mirror, the newsfeed, or the eyes of a lover?
Well you could certainly do worse than to start with Kamal Ravikant‘s blunt and purposeful book “Love Yourself like your Life Depends on It,” you could even do worse than to listen carefully to the words of a particular Justin Bieber song of similar namesake, but all the desire, intention, and willingness to love yourself in the world is for naught without any true concept of self. Who are you when you’re not pretending for the world? Who are you before you learned your cast assignment on the day of your naming?
That is for you to discover, but you’re going to need to first turn off that television, but down that phone, and go up into the attic and dig out that big dusty padlocked box where you stored away your imagination for safe keeping long ago.
While you’re at it, feel free to dig out any blue swords and Lego figures you find. In all this time spent worrying about what kind of house our ego needs for safe keeping of a lawnmower, weedwhacker and leafblower, we’ve lost sight of the majesty that lawn was build for.
We’re so busy keeping up appearances that we have missed out on the little Lego men meeting their demise, caught between forgotten twigs and blades of grass as the seasons of our life drudge on.
Buy yourself a coloring book, find yourself a park and a pack of crayons. Leave your phone at home, sit your ass down, stop trying to be cool and just let life flow through you.
Your first project might remind you why art is best left for creative alcoholics, but hang your colorful shit on the proverbial fridge in your mind like a good loving parent anyway. This is you, and you would like to be loved.