The Downside of Modernity

“[O]ur brains have always outraced our hearts. Our science charges ahead, but our souls lag behind.”

– Lee Adama, from the series finale of Battlestar Galactica

A few months ago I was driving on a Los Angeles freeway and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a light-brown, curly-haired puppy dog. The dog was so happy and joyful, that for a second I had forgotten that this was not the context in which one normally sees a puppy dog prancing along.

But before I could even process the fear about what was inevitably about to happen, it was too late: I had zoomed forward in my modern vehicle and it was only in my rear view mirror that I witnessed the sad fate of my poor friend–and it all happened in less than a matter of seconds.

I will spare you describing the event in detail not only because it would be cruel, but because, sadly, many of you may have witnessed this type of tragedy yourself, and, most certainly, all of you have seen its aftermath: who has not seen the traces of these lovely creatures, barely recognizable, on the side of the road? We pretend we don’t know what those traces once were, lest we remind ourselves that these lifeless forms were once full of love and happiness.

This lovely little dog’s demise was a consequence of our need for modernity. He was unable to catch up to us, and so, like what happens with all those who can’t catch up to our lighting speed ways of being, he was run over and left to be removed by a group of workers who we pay, through taxation, to quietly and quickly remove all living things who died because they had the nerve to get in our way–to get in the way of our fast-paced modern way of living.

You may think it is silly to be so upset at such “a small thing” as the sudden end of a puppy dog’s life, but if this is so, I would ask you to please check your pulse. Maybe the quick beat of modernity has caused your blood to pump so fast that it now completely skips its movement through the heart.

The Downside of Modernity

Can you Google what the origin of the soul is and find the final, right answer among the search results?

Where, I ask you, can you find an app that will explain to you what the point of unrequited love is?

Is there, I wonder, a tablet that can hold your hand as you grieve the loss of a loved one?

Can Facebook ever guarantee to find you a friend who will go with you to the emergency room when an inexplicable shooting pain goes down your backside and you are terrified of what that pain might be? Or is that not in the list of things they ask people to fill out in one of their little “profiles”? (I mean, does it really matter to me that you like Beyonce and have a thing for argyle sweaters, or is it better that I know that you happen to be a loyal, reliable, and trustworthy friend, who will be with me through the good times and the bad?)

What is posted on online dating sites that contains what we really need to know about the person we potentially want to spend the rest of our lives with?

And when is the last time that you passed over a hug for reading “a Tweet” when you felt lonely?

You see, the downside of modernity is that it seems to fill all our needs, when it only fills all our wants.

And recently we have confused all our wants with all our needs.

For instance, we don’t need to know everything that was ever written on every topic on Wikipedia, we just want to know that. It’s nice to have all that information, sure, but we don’t need it.

What we need is to know the meaning of our lives. What we need is to know why we are here and what is our purpose and who the frak are we?

What we need is love, what we need is attention, what we need is kindness and compassion and truth and wisdom and light.

What we don’t need is more of what we want.

But that’s all that modernity seems to give us these days.

This is the downside of modernity.

It has its upsides, yes, and I don’t need to argue for those, because the upsides have been (and will continued to be) trumpeted at every technological convention, and in every tech news article, and through the lips of every gadget-lover.

Just to be clear: I have no problem with technology in and of itself. I have no beef with modernity in and of itself.

My problem is with technology’s most recent attempt at overshadowing meditation and contemplation (which it can never be greater than). My beef is with modernity’s most recent attempt at laying a claim on ultimate truth (which it can never acquire, for ultimate truth can only be found in the eternal, and not in the ephemeral, which is the very DNA of modernity.)

My worry and concern is that we are all so distracted by the artificial flash of our digital cameras that we miss the natural glow of a miracle taking place right in front of our noses.

We spend more time anxious about checking our friend’s status online, but we forget to do things that are far more pertinent: like checking the status of our own body and its current health, for instance.

Who needs to take more 2-dimensional pictures on Instagram when what would be better is more 3-dimensional experiences in which we savor ever gram of food and cherish every instant of laughter?

The Next Modern Invention Must Be Rooted In The Ancient

I loved modernity until it started to take my life hostage. I loved modernity until I began to notice its casualties: lovely, innocent beings, like that dog whose happiness was crushed in an instant, before he even knew what was coming.

We’ve sacrificed too much to modernity. It’s time to step back and take a breather.

Maybe it’s time to put the technological revolution on pause for a bit, and let our souls catch up to all these new ways of being.

Maybe the next revolutionary gadget isn’t a gadget at all, but a new state of oneness with everything? Maybe the next tech revolution isn’t in tech and isn’t led by a nerd in Silicon Valley, but by a divorcée Yoga instructor in Philadelphia who’s just had a spiritual awakening? Maybe the next social networking tool isn’t an online site, but a new pledge that we all take together to start slowing down, looking around, and start being truly appalled by the way in which our “modern lifestyles” are affecting our souls, our minds, our bodies, our heart, our communities, our animals, and our planet.

Please, I beg of you, let “the next big thing” be a change of heart, and not a change of cell phones.

Let us all rise up and challenge modernity and its coldness, and its callousness, and its cynicism, and its indifference.

Let us look to ancient wisdom to anchor us in something more powerful and intuitive than a computer you can wear like glasses over your eyes.*

Please, let us give our souls some time to catch up with the lightning-quick changes of modernity.

And please let us do this soon before we are the ones it runs over.

much love,

Ollin

Today’s Courage Exercise

If you are feeling like you are a causality of modernity (or have witnessed another living creature become a causality of modernity), take a breather. Reach out to ancient wisdom and thought to anchor yourself in what truly matters. More importantly: have a conversation with friends and family about this topic. Is this a topic that concerns them, too? If it is, how can you and them affect change?

And if you are a writer, by all means, write your thoughts about it and share it in some place public where others can see it and engage in this topic with you.

*As if we weren’t distracted enough, modernity is overreaching to the point where it doesn’t just want to be a distraction, it now wants to be the very eye in which we see the world. It is disgusting.

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3 comments on “The Downside of Modernity

  1. Patrick says:

    This was absolutely beautiful, Ollin! It really resonated with me. And the fact that I’ve seen a similar message all up in my face like three times in just a few days is really spooky… and I guess this means I’m supposed to pass it on and pay attention!🙂

  2. Katie Cross says:

    Wow, very heartfelt article here. I saw a cat get over once, and when I tearfully approached my husband about it, he couldn’t figure out why I was so sad. That made me even more sad, and I’ll never forget the feeling of horror I felt. Sometimes I wish I was strong enough to unplug myself from moderninity for 24 hours, and remember why we are here.

  3. Rachael says:

    Hi Ollin,

    Beautifully written as always, but I am going to disagree. Our souls don’t lag behind. They are, and always will be our rock that keeps us grounded.

    When we include the soul in our journey there are so many ways that modernity allows us to be more connected to people, I mean really connected, in a way that matters. I’m going to use social media as the prime example; You see while some people and businesses use social media as an automated ‘channel’ to gain leads and eyeballs, Joe and Jane Average use it to keep in touch with people. People who they think about, care about but who they can never find the time to call and say “Hey, How’re you doing?”

    That is not a bad thing, sometimes all we need to know is that someone cares enough to think about us. It doesn’t take a five minute conversation to make someone feel good. A text, phone message or Facebook “Hi!” or ‘like’ is enough to warm the soul with companionship.

    Modernity gives the lonely and broken soul solace they could not hope to find elsewhere. Get out from behind automated postings and start having real interactions and you will find it.

    Go and see some of the camaraderie between a group of parents trying to cope with twin babies 24/7, some are failing, some feel like they are failing, but all are supporting each other. See the group dedicated to helping people cope with the loss of a loved one and you will find the same thing. Go to any parenting group and you will see beyond the facade of the mother’s club and experience the joy, humor and frustration in real time.

    Like a page that puts out funny pictures and get a daily dose of hilarious. The soul needs that too. To remember what funny looks like, to remember that the world is not all bad and someone else has the same whacky sense of humor you do.

    Then there are the lost connections. Think of how many friends you have, how many loved ones, how many neighbors, classmates, ex best friends, ex girlfriends/boyfriends you would love to keep a connection with but who have fallen by the wayside because you ‘ran out of time to stay connected’.

    “What we need is love, what we need is attention, what we need is kindness and compassion and truth and wisdom and light.”

    No, our Facebook friends might not be the ones to drive us to the hospital, but they certainly produce love, attention, kindness, compassion, truth, wisdom and light when we need it. More importantly, the modernity of our time gives us the resources and courage to ask for all of the above and not feel embarrassed about it.

    See how Paul Miller did after unplugging for a year. I guarantee that if most people who feel that the technology of today is sucking their soul tried to do the same would suffer the same fate as Paul.

    http://www.theverge.com/2013/5/1/4279674/im-still-here-back-online-after-a-year-without-the-internet

    Modernity isn’t the problem, neither is the food we eat, the clothes we wear or the people we hang out with. The problem is basic human nature, but at least we have a choice in whether we let that enhance or defeat us.

    Call it modernity, technology whatever, the ‘future’ is here and like 3-D movies, the novelty of it all is beginning to wear off. I personally think we as a society are starting to get some balance back into life and soul thanks to technology and modernity.

    Rachael
    (ps despite disagreeing occasionally, I love your posts – keep up the good work!🙂

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