My Mentoring work brings me in to contact with one of the major impacts of the information age, social media and rise of virtual reality. That impact is the the prioritization of imagining doing over actually doing.
In a world where increasingly what passes for knowledge is based on a passive interaction with predigested information, it is increasingly rare that individuals get the opportunity to have hands-on experience in any part of their life.
In previous decades people had what were called hobbies. They built model airplanes, knitted, baked or build things. In high school, we all had to take shop or home economics. Our parents taught us the doing things, particularly for others, was an important part of who we were.
One of the most important benefits from these hobbies, and the experience of doing, was the tactile experience of encountering physical reality. Hands touched, eyes saw and ears heard as part of the process. There was a connection with the ‘real world’.
Much like the gradual alienation from nature, many individuals are now experiencing an alienation from the tactile experience of doing. And many of them are discovering that tapping a keyboard or a screen is no substitute. It is not doing in any fundamental sense. Nothing results but the next need to tap. They are experiencing the loss of a direct connection with the world about them and finding that the virtual reality of video games and the pseudo-friendships of social media are unsatisfactory replacements.
Millions of years of evolution have developed a human race with senses that must be stimulated. We need to have the experience of reaching out and touching something. Humans also are inherently social animals. We crave the experience of reaching out and touching someone – and of being touched. These hungers are such an essential part of who we are as humans that, when we are deprived of them, a malaise settles into our being that can, if it remains unchecked, turn into depression.
The antidote to a life dominated by abstraction is application. In short, the way to rebalance your life is to replace some of the time you spend in a virtual reality with time spent doing, feeling and experiencing. In a fundamental way, the remedy is awakening to your life and the world around you. But you can’t do that by thinking about it. You can only do that by getting up, moving forward and experiencing the incredible range of joys and sorrows that being human provides.
You know, the strange thing about all of this is that it doesn’t require a wise or logical choice. It’s just a matter of doing something – anything – at the beginning. Spending hours thinking about what you might do is just another form of abstraction. It is far better to be doing. It doesn’t matter where you start. Build a birdhouse or a footstool! Pick up a guitar! Knit a sweater! Walk in the woods! What is important is developing the habit of doing. Once you have that, the rest will sort itself out.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD