If you’re ever in search of something lighthearted and uplifting to watch that won’t wreak havoc on your sense of inner peace or faith in the goodness of mankind, you can go ahead and cross the first episode of Black Mirror off your list of possibilities.
My husband and I watched it on a Friday night and come Monday morning, I was still despondently texting him about how disgusted and discombobulated I felt about myself, the world, and existence as a whole.
Random images of pigs on leashes and the sound of distraught European accents still pop into my head from time to time and darken my worldview. Lovely.
Anyway, despite the episode’s repugnancy, it was soberingly effective at conveying what I believe was its primary message: Our faces are forever glued to screens, causing us to constantly miss out on things. There are innumerable opportunities, ideas, and connections that I could be seizing, if only I’d look up from my device and notice them.
At the same time, though, there’s no denying that there is a plethora of goodness for us on screens. The internet, as disturbingly bizarro as some of its corners are, is really a phenomenal place, and other things we do through screens are abundantly beneficial.
The problem is not the screens. In and of themselves, the devices in front of our faces are not bad things. The problem is deeper than the screens. The problem, I think, is the obsession we have with ourselves and our own individual, little worlds.
It’s the addictive, sedentary comfort I experience by staying inside my own, egocentric bubble and never reaching outside of it. My phone might feed this comfort at times, but it’s really a state of mind and it doesn’t require a device hovering in front of my face in order to take hold. Here’s how I know:
A couple months ago, I didn’t even have my phone with me. I was in line to pick it up at a repair shop, since I’d finally decided that I should stop accumulating tiny shards of glass in my thumb from caressing a shattered screen all day.
It was late in the day – past dinner time – and I had both the babes with me who, at that time of day, are less babe-like and more wrathful, starving gargoyle-like.
There were two people in line before us, one of whom was at the counter carefully and, might I add, utterly unhurriedly negotiating some deal he’d seen in a flier (which, of course, he’d brought along for demonstrative purposes). He was guilty of nothing. He was simply determined to get the best price possible and ensure a dependable repair for his device, but he was in no rush whatsoever and my blood began to boil as Helga slowly climbed out of her lair. (My husband’s name for my hangry alter ego = Helga.)
Meanwhile, my three-year-old was pelletting me with heartfelt, arbitrary demands (probably to take her shoes off) while the baby, still strapped in his carseat at my feet, angrily berated Sophie the giraffe who humbly accepted her slobber bath sentence.
We were all hungry. We were all tired. I just wanted to get my phone back and get home but this dude was taking for. Ever. All I could think about was how overwhelmed, exhausted and irritated I was. I was pretty content nursing my bitterness in my own self-absorbed little world. So content, in fact, that I had totally disregarded the second person in line in front of me, sitting peacefully awaiting her turn less than two feet away from me.
When I finally made eye contact with her, she smiled and asked how old my kids were. We started chatting and somehow, despite the emphatically babbling babe and requests to Bilbo Baggins feet it in the dead of winter, I managed to try to understand this woman, and asked if she had kids.
She did. Two girls. One was currently planning a wedding and the other had been disabled years ago in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. She was making lots of progress, though, and had recently started driving herself to doctors appointments.
Our exchange was brief but so precious because suddenly, our bubbles began to converge. The demands of my growling belly and fussing offspring momentarily faded, and I was able to zero in on this beautiful individual with a big, buzzing bubble of her own.
In one of Tim Ferris’ eye-opening Tribe of Mentors podcasts, he interviewed Adam Robinson, a brilliant entrepreneur, author, and global finance expert. Although he admitted to a tendency toward introversion, Robinson enthusiastically explained that a habit which has monumentally improved his life has been encountering and connecting with strangers in public. “Now I so eagerly look forward to leaving my home each day wondering what magic I’ll create encountering others that I can scarcely contain myself,” Robinson gushed.
He can scarcely contain himself. Meanwhile, in the midst of a prime opportunity to connect with a new person and create this “magic,” all I could think about was myself and my circumstances and my issues.
Look. I’m not saying that you’re the cancer of society if you opt to check your email in line at Target instead of asking for the life story of the person behind you.
But if you find yourself with an opportunity to reach outside your bubble and into someone else’s, think twice before you pass it up. You never know what kind of magic you might create. What’s the worst that could happen? They tell you to piss off and then you get to recoil back into your own world? Win/win, if you ask me.