Print Edition II: Looking Up and Out

By Helena Fierle

Like eggs, my life has been served in many varied forms this year… scrambled, fried, sunny side up, sunny side way down (is that a thing?), hard-boiled, soft-boiled, over-easy, over- really not easy. Cracking the shells of what I thought I knew about myself and this big world we live in. My yoke, the core of who I am, spills out in new forms. I find myself in a mood of experimentation, inspired to develop new habits and adjust to change. But sometimes the biggest change is felt in the return to old places, old ways of being, and carrying the new into the old, embracing the challenge of return.

Coming back into our university environment from a summer spent with little technological use has been an over-really-not-easy transition. I’ve become particularly observant of our habits shaped by technology. I use ‘our’ as an expression to highlight it is not just you or me – but us – this generation that is living through the dramatic influence of technology. Technology has, and will continue, to evolve to shape our identity and change our relationship with ourselves and the world around us. I feel it is our responsibility to think consciously about our habits, and consider the ways they shape us and our world.

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The habit of using technology is certainly an interesting one – do these habits sound familiar? Waking up to check our phones right away, before feeling fully awake ourselves. During breaks, pauses within our days, turning to check media platforms, giving more interest to the world in our phones than the world around us, the conversations within conversations, layers of distance and divide, a space between the people physically here and those that aren’t. Studying in an education system increasingly focused around the ‘need’ to be on a laptop, a study space filled less by books and conversation but eyes glued to a computer… a mysterious working space, are you writing, reading, watching? Who knows? We seem to be living within our own bubbles of space.

These last few months have been a personal attempt to find ways to burst the bubbles, the barriers, the distance and divide, to develop ways to use technology that support my personal feeling of connection to the moments I live within and the people physically here in my life. Through numerous Facebook deletions and reactivations, a sporadic iPhone selling and repurchasing, and a frustrated computer crashing – I’ve felt a flip-flop effect of connect and disconnect – realizing what I always knew, but had forgotten, it is not the wifi connection that controls my feelings but me. This is the story of my short-term divorce from technology, and the development to our current relationship status, being ‘it’s complicated’.

I felt my sunny side up living in the months of summer. The sense of freedom without a million to-dos. Spending time away from cities and into nature, I found myself at peace within the changing of light between night and day – paying attention to time in its natural form. A plan-as-we-go backpack trip through the wild country of New Zealand (#shoutout to my mate Joni), working on a small farm in northern Australia, sleeping under an infinite number of shining stars, I found quiet space surrounded by the breath of nature and the companionship of only those around me.

Barely using my phone, I experienced moments through the lens of my own eyes, capturing memories and feelings I’ll never forget. The months of summer were a time of pause, to experience a pause from living surrounded by a culture of people dependent on technology for the fast-pace conveniences it provides.  Living apart from technology, everything slowed down. Each passing moment became an opportunity to feel fully, to be in the moment with every sensation, so alive, so awake.

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Reemerging out of the simplicity and privilege of carefree rural life, I found myself abruptly back in the busy buzz of people. People with places to go, people to see, a million and one things to do. I felt overwhelmed, to say the least. Coming back to university, quickly plopped back into the demands of checking emails, Facebook messages, studying through screens. Each time I checked my phone or turned on my laptop I felt a rise of anxiety – I no longer enjoyed using my phone… or my computer. Checking WhatsApp, emails, Facebook felt like time spent in a bubble, a bubble I had no interest in. I craved the slowness and awareness of summer’s sun.

Walking through spaces, city centers, classrooms, restaurants, my heart ached seeing how many people were on their phones…  I found myself in critical reflection of a culture attuned to the rising normalization of looking down at our screens – gotta keep up those neck-roll exercises, there’s bound be a sore-neck epidemic soon! At cafes, my ears cringed hearing the question of the century… “do you have wifi?” It’s about time someone said, “Why fi? No way Jose! We fight for our right to make you actually look at the person in front of you!! Look up people!” There are now pedestrian traffic lights installed on sidewalks, preventing  people from being squashed as they neglect to see the car zooming in front of them, their eyes glued down to their phones.

Preferring to cast our eyes down at screens on trains, in classrooms, restaurants, and even while walking, we seem less and less interested in what’s around us. This creation of a virtual reality has implanted a dependency on being virtually ‘connected’ at all times… the where’s wifi syndrome allows for escape from moments of being alone. One day without wifi and we feel a sense of anxiety – lost and confused about what to do with ourselves. Even when we aren’t alone, there is an apparent need to connect with a wider audience, as if those around us weren’t enough entertainment. The obsession with recording our lives, documenting through videos and pictures. More media than we will ever actually take the time to look at, frankly, more than anyone else will actually care to see.

I thought maybe deleting Facebook and selling my phone would heal this anxiety, and allow me to feel active in combatting the negative of technology. Yet the anxiety remained, and I felt I had given up on keeping in touch with my friends and family abroad – connections to people I value.

I had to open my eyes wider to see all the positives of our technological advances. The way in which technology has allowed for a world in communication with one another. We can cross time and space, talk across continents with the click (well nothing really clicks anymore) of a button (barely any buttons either)…the touch of our finger. It has made my life abroad possible! Flying across vast distances in only a number of hours, the gift of flying. Keeping in contact with friends across the globe, I feel my community expand. Access to more information than my brain will ever be able to comprehend, my knowledge of the world explodes! A life of technology is a privilege.

It is control I now practice, controlling when I use technology and knowing when the time is to turn it off and just be. I practice using technology with a mindset of presence, being fully aware when I am sending a message – knowing the way we communicate is reflective of our relationships. I see social media as a platform for sharing, a powerful tool that can allow images and words to speak truths about who we are.

I see these past few months not just as a phase of my own emotional turmoil and sporadic decision-making, but as part of a lifelong quest to continually come back to the question of how I want to live. What habits allow me to strengthen connection with myself? How do I connect with others and the world around me? I hope that this questioning inspires others to do the same, to dive fearlessly into deeper connection with our own habits and ways of living.

As you read these words, I challenge you to take a breath (oh wait.. you were going to do that already, weren’t you…). Take a breath and feel yourself where you are now – look up – what’s around you? What do you see? A world unfiltered. A clear image of life in connection with the raw moment of being you, wherever you may be.

If you’ve been in my yoga or meditation classes, you may have heard me say, “you have nowhere to be and nothing to do, but simply be here, in your breath, in your body, in this moment”. Minds easily float to places other than where we are… technology is the boat that allows us to quickly hop on, and if we let it, we can float even further away from our presence. It is not always easy to be present; it can be lonely and confronting. But it is a practice that can deepen our experience in our growth through the passing of time. Like the waves of the ocean, the rise and fall of the sun each new day, the ebb and flow of our breath, there is a realization that we too are passing, just like time, into the abyss of our mysterious future and at the end of it all it is not our phones or hard drives that carry our experiences, but the moments within us that bring us back to life.

Helena Fierle, Class of 2018, is a Politics and Law major from North Carolina, USA.

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