Love Cell, Loathe People?
I don’t buy it. In fact, I think it’s a bullshit excuse. So, with that said, you know where I stand on the issue. Now, let me tell you the issue and why I think it’s near-total crap.
I’m not going to take up the whole tech-loathing-because-gadgets-undermine-human-connection conversation from the beginning. Rather, I’ll take it mid-stream because the whole thing has started to bore me. We’ve all heard it. And, quite likely, all of us see it and have some measure of agreement that incessant internet access fractures hopes of connecting with people. Parents of tweeners, crotchety old people (which more of my generation seem to be becoming) who need to lament the demise of American values, and even young adults longing for more human connection all see it – as much as we love tech, it’s killing parts of us, both individually and collectively.
So, taking that awareness we all have of the problem, I’ll say simply that I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that is the problem. Or, more accurately, I don’t believe that increased tech, increased access to the internet, and cooler apps, games, and HBO/Netflix shows are the real reason we’re connecting less – to people, to nature, or to street signs telling us when not to cross.
In my last book, I Steal Wives: A Serial Adulterer Reveals the Real Reasons More and More ‘Happily Married’ Women are Cheating,** I spent a full chapter discussing how tech makes marital infidelity much easier today. No longer does an unhappy wife have to contact two old friends to find out what happened to that cute guy from English Lit class in high school, not to mention then go to the public library to leaf through the white pages for Albuquerque before calling his house there, only to hear a woman’s voice on the other end. Nah, as we all know, it just takes typing the 11 letters of his name into Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google. A bit of scrolling, then – click – there he is. And, no worries of a missus answering (unless he’s one of those guys who shares his account with said missus) an innocuous enough note.
So simple. So accessible. Cheating proliferates because of the mere accessibility of possible partners and the ease of continuing the illicit behavior without detection.
However, the mistake would be made in asserting that the increase in tech and accessibility cause cheating. They facilitate it, but the underlying unhappiness and fear – which, parenthetically, generally pre-date the marriage/relationship, itself – are what drive infidelity.
Underlying the Tech Problem
The real effect of tech is that it acts as a new virus on an already weakened human-social immune system. This, then, begs the rather obvious question, What the hell is the real problem, if it’s not the tech and accessibility?
And, as always, the solution is not that difficult to unearth if you know where to look and have eyes to see the real shit.
Just ask yourself one basic question. It’s not the cure-all question, but it gets us in the ballpark. What do you do when you’re at Starbucks, after you’ve ordered, and waiting for your drink? Or, for church-going folk, perhaps while you’re standing in line to exit the sanctuary at the end of service? Or, when you’re standing on the platform waiting for the subway? Or any line anywhere, or anytime people are around?
You look at your phone, right?
Well, I’ll tell you why I do it, sometimes. Cuz I feel like a fucking idiot for just standing there with nothing to do. I fear people are looking at me and thinking, “What’s wrong with that douche, just standing there? Doesn’t he have anything to do? (Doesn’t he have a phone to look at?)”
The incessant and generally unnecessary glances at the cellphone are invariably and inextricably linked to fear. We fear what others may think when they look at us. And so, to both distract our minds from that fear AND appear like we actually do have something urgent to do, we start flipping through email, texts, or banal Facebook posts….ANYTHING to keep the fear at bay.
And so, about now, I could start a rant on how we all need to stop giving a shit what people think of us. And that’d be a damn good rant. I’ve made it before and will make it again in the future. We all need a whole lot more of not giving a shit what others think. (And, I’m not immune to telling you I’m absolutely fucking convinced that your life will be a whole lot better the more you put the pinch on that very fear.)
But, no, the problem on this one goes a whole lot deeper (and this is why I call my work ‘spiritual’ counseling, because it goes down to the very core issues driving the behaviors of life). On the surface it presents as the same problem teachers and parents addressed in us, back in junior high: Stop caring what other people think (as if those same parents and teachers were doing so in their lives).
It cuts to a couple of issues, each deeper than the last.
See, to a very large degree, the fear is not just of what people think, but below that is the fear of simply standing there, still, doing literally nothing. For ‘doing nothing’ is terrifying. We don’t know what to do when we’re doing nothing, not just with our bodies and our time, but with our minds. What am I supposed to do with my mind when I’m not doing something?
We have a society that is afraid to be still. For, once you do that, once you quiet the body, you are confronted face-to-face with a mind that seemingly cannot stop: ‘What are people thinking’, ‘Where are my hands’ , ‘Does my makeup look shitty’, ‘How do my arms look’, ‘What is my daughter/son doing right now’, ‘When will this line be done’, ‘I hate this shit’, not to mention ‘I should talk to someone around me, but if I do, they’ll think I’m stupid or will reject me.’
And that’s only the beginning.
See, once we really sloooooow down and even stop (God forbid!), all the real shit of life comes washing over us like a wave we are powerless to avoid. The fears, the past resentments, the feelings, the thoughts about family members and friends, the insecurities, the embarrassments.
And every little line, every incidence of being around people, and every little moment of ‘not doing’ stirs up the fears, which are undergirded by the grand fear of the real shit of your life – your past and all the beliefs about self that grow out of those tapes from the past.
As discussed in another chapter in the book, we (especially women, today) so venerate doing and busyness, as if it’s some grand virtue, because we so fear quietness, calm, and the tidal wave of fears, insecurities, and feelings that overwhelm us when we do slow down. Queerly, the very thing many people claim to want – peace – is the very thing those same people fear most.
This sheer terror of the silence, the calm, is what breeds all manner of maladaptive behaviors, from infidelity to gambling, from over-imbibing to over-exercising, from working too much to, yes, even over-parenting. It’s that mad desire to stay in motion, either bodily or mentally, but preferably both.
And what stills that busy mind is both an ongoing confrontation with and address of all that afflicts it, which is often a long process (though one there are definitely short-cuts for), as well as a deeper variation of a sort of “who gives a shit” mantra. See, at the core of all fear, uncertainty, insecurity, and maladaptive behaviors is a question – a choice between fear and trust. The fear is always that, for whatever reason, I won’t be okay. Thus, the trust that must be chosen is that I will, in fact, be okay, no matter what happens. And, really, the surest way to come to that sense of trust in near-inevitable okayness is the experience of going through hell enough times to realize that you always come out the other side. Yeah, it sucks going through hell, but eventually the other side always comes.
But below that choice is the question of whether or not you suck.
I know that may sound odd, but every insecurity, every moment of fear – whether in the Starbucks line or in an elevator with people you don’t know – has at its root the very real belief that you suck. You are absolutely terrified that all the shit slung at you in junior high or on the playground in elementary school, or by your siblings or parent(s) even to this day, is actually true and that people see it, somehow, when they’re standing there looking at you waiting for your latte. The terror is that you really do suck and that people see it.
THAT, believe it or not, is the reason you’re inanely looking at your phone when you really have no reason or desire to. It’s not the fear of looking stupid, it’s the fear of your deepest fear being confirmed.
And rather than actually get deliberate about life and address your core debilitating beliefs, which is inevitably spiritual (but not religious) work, you keep running….and keep looking at the damn phone.
The problem isn’t the tech or the internet or Apple’s clever shit.
The problem is your sheer terror of looking at who you really are and what is really driving your life.
And, on one hand, there’s nothing wrong with that. Fuck, it’s your life; you can live it however you want to live it. But, don’t start blaming computers for the world’s problems, and stop complaining that you’re so damn busy and can’t seem to catch a breath. Stop complaining that your body can’t keep up with your busy life. (And don't even get me started on how caffeine plays right into this busyness obsession.) Stop.
Because it’s all just a ruse. It’s all a cover for the real truth. And the truth is that you’re scared of your truth, scared of the silence, scared of the not-doing, scared of just being.
Further, whether you believe it or not, your true happiness and lasting inner peace are intricately tied to the fears underlying this incessant busyness. If you refuse to slow down and actually begin to look at your life and live deliberately, you will, as a matter of absolute fact, continue to be eluded by happiness.
The only way to still the mind and find lasting peace and happiness is to begin by stilling the external life…and start looking at the stuff that keeps you running, in the first place.
And that, my little friends, is the real scary shit of life, but it’s also where the gold is.
Got the courage?
Though the book, I Steal Wives, is about infidelity, the insights and wisdom in it have powerfully changed the lives even of people who do not struggle with infidelity.