I must say this from the outset. Please, please, please don’t read this as some type of “holier than thou” lecture or a sermon on the mount. God knows I have an oak tree in my corneas as I point out the planks our collective eyes. I take this occasions to warn of a brewing crisis that is slowly eating away at the fabric of our nation. If you have not noticed by now, there are zombies among us. I’m not talking about zombies like the ones on The Walking Dead or Will Smith’s I am Legend. The Zombies I’m referring to look like every day human beings; they don’t have lesions nor do they walk aimlessly looking for human flesh to devour.
These zombies are harder to spot because they emulate us. They are attached to inanimate objects and gaze blankly into space. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the zombies I’m talking about are us. We have become so attached to technology that we are erasing the very essence of what makes us human. I only noticed the depth of our collective detachment when I started taking the DC metro system to work on a daily basis. For the first couple of weeks, I was oblivious to just how weirdly wired we have become a society. I was too busy reading articles or watching YouTube videos, all while Tweeting or posting updates on Facebook, to realize that we have become a culture of iZombies.
I’ve noticed this oddity for a while actually; it’s fascinating how utterly divorced more and more of us are becoming from one another. Each time I walked in a restaurant and observed a couple sitting at a table together but barely talking to one another it would make me shake my head in disbelief—two smartphones acting like the Berlin Wall between lovers. Alas, my incredulity had a shelf life shorter than Joe the Plumber’s 15 seconds of fame. The minute I sat down to eat my dinner, before I even looked at the menu, I found myself repeating the same actions which only a few minutes prior induced agita in my soul. It’s always more disconcerting seeing abnormal behavior in others than when we are the actors.
My random observations of our collective sedation hit a crescendo two days ago when I happened upon a scene that at once astonished me and moved me to self-reflection. While I was waiting for the blue train at Van Dorn Station, upon looking up from my smartphone, I saw a father holding his son’s hand while being glued to his iPad. The son was trying to get his dad’s attention but his dad could not be bothered as he focused on his device. This scene reminded me of a time I was at the metro with my dad when I was eight years old. I got separated from my dad and entered the train only to look back and see my dad frantically running down the platform trying to get the train to stop. Somehow, my father was able to get the conductor’s attention and retrieved his frightened son—my dad has always been my hero of all heroes.
Perhaps my recollection of my dad juxtaposed to a father holding his son while transfixed on his tablet is the reason why I was so jilted by the whole scene. I put my phone down for the rest of the train ride and just made it a point to observe. There must have been upward of 80 people on the car that I was ridding on; out of the 80 or so people, at least 65 were on their phones, laptops or tablet. A majority had their earbuds on while they were staring out into the blue abyss of the world wide net. I wondered what aliens from another planet would think of us as they watch us walk around in autopilot and letting gadgets dehumanize us.
I don’t write this as some type of social satire for our addictions to technology has severe repercussions. Humans are communal by nature; yet more and more of us are shattering our relationship with our neighbors and friends only to go on a quest to find community in the internet. We are literally rewiring our brains; the dopamine rush we get from social media is rewiring the human mind. Information overload is crowding out meaningful interactions; we are being trained online to skim through articles and videos only to repeat the same patterns in real life. In this paradigm, conversations have almost become passe. We are so quick to get our voices heard that we rarely take the time to listen to others. Hashtags have replaced sacrifice and memes have supplanted dialogues; we are so busy talking past each other that we don't realize we're all sojourners in the same struggle. Click To Tweet
Algorithms and customized news feeds are leading us to group think. We are being shepherded to only interact with people who have world views just like us. In this atmosphere, it is easier and easier for a few who profit to ghettoize the rest of us into encampments—divide and conquer has never been easier. This is how people who share the same struggles and go through the same adversities are convinced that they are each other’s enemies. Injustices grow exponentially as we keep seeing each as abstractions. Compassion, empathy and kindness are being vitiated by the harsh rhetoric, clap backs and put downs that are the franca lingua of social media. We demand justice as we loosen blowtorches upon each other only to shocked that the world is going up in flames. Martin Luther King once said, “hate cannot drive out hate”; we are too busy being medicated by media to heed his counsel.
Reflect on these things for a moment. America has only 5% of the global population yet we consume over 50% of the world’s medication. We are conditioned to believe that money and consumption are the keys to happiness, yet the more we buy and the more we chase materialism, the more we get sunk by depression, anxiety and mental illnesses. These issues will only get exacerbated as we keep disconnecting from each other and connecting to technology. It’s bad enough we are committing this level of self-harm, but to pass on this pernicious addiction to children is something we must really think twice upon.
I realize the irony of writing this article and by extension contributing to the very issues I’m spelling out. Yesterday evening, I joked with my fiancee that I’m thinking about detoxing from my phone for a month but first I need to see if I can find out how on Google. They say that the first step towards recovery is to notice a problem; you see, I wrote this article as much as for the writer as I did for the reader. Here is to hoping that we put away our phones a bit more and experience the community that is about us. Instead of chatting with strangers through the ether, make a friend with someone who is right next to you. A hundred virtual retweets and a thousand likes—none are as redeeming as a hello in reality. #iZombie
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Check out the latest Ghion Cast where I discuss the journey we all go on to seek truth and realize our common struggle to discover our purpose. We have more that unites us than the trivial issues that divide us.
DMV Event: How Overcome Can Overcome Oppression
If we are to bend the arc of history towards justice, we can only do so through inclusiveness and by speaking truth to power without political, identity or ideological blinders. That is the aim of the event I’ll be hosting next Wednesday,April 4th, at Kaldi’s Social house. The event was inspired by one of the most widely read articles here at the Ghion Journal titled “Greater than Wakanda”. Click HERE or on the picture below to RSVP.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.