Not too long ago, I had taken a trip down to the grocery store with a long list of ingredients for a "Caribbean Hot Sauce" I was planning to make. Aside from the interesting hot sauce recipe that I had never tried out, it was a pretty standard trip to one of my neighborhood grocery stores, yet something unexpected happened that really made my day.
One of the ingredients from the recipe were mangoes, so I made my way over to the produce section in the back of the grocery store to search for them. Not only did I find the mangoes...but I found several different kinds and shapes...it was a bit overwhelming, considering I had embarrassingly never bought a mango before. Do I choose a bigger greenish one? Or do I choose one of the smaller bright yellow ones? Once I decide that, how do I know which mangoes are ripe, and how should I be checking for that?
I obviously had a bit of a predicament on my hands, so out of habit, I started to reach for my "all knowing" smart phone. I began typing in "How to Know if a Mango is Ripe" into my search engine..... then I thought to myself, what in the world am I doing? What's wrong with me? I'm literally surrounded by people that work in the produce section, who most likely know everything there is to know about anything found there, and I was about to search for answers in "cyber space!" So I then made the conscious decision to subordinate my phone, and put my faith in humanity instead of technology. I picked out an older looking gentlemen working there, who was stocking the shelves with some carrots and lettuce at the time, and shouted over to him "Excuse me, I have a couple questions for you about these mangoes ." When I said that, his face absolutely lit up with a huge smile, he dropped what he was doing, and walked right over. With a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm that I could practically feel, he began telling me everything I could possibly need to know about mangoes, and went into even more detail about the ones he had in the store that day. Having a hard time specifically explaining what he liked best about the flavor of the "Asian Mangoes," he impatiently got out a little knife, and started cutting me off pieces of the ripest one on the pile to taste. It was delicious! When he started doing that, someone else shopping, a middle-aged African American man, decided to stop to see what was going on, he enjoyed some mango as well, and also told us about his favorite mango salad recipe! Long story short it was a really great experience connecting with other people in a neighborhood grocery store that I wouldn't have had a chance to enjoy if I had been sucked into my phone.
Why is it that nearly 100% of the time we opt for the technological route for information, via our phones, which promise convenience, instead of giving the human route a shot, where there is always a chance for authentic communication, connection, and community? My phone easily could've gotten me the information, or "data," that I needed, but it couldn't have replicated the connection I experienced with a couple strangers that day. Now, it's not that I do this ALL the time, I have my days where I'm just as enamored by my phone as the next person, but it was a reminder to me of the great benefits that can be reaped from lifting your head up from that screen and "unplugging." Our phones can give us content and answers, which they're great at, but can our phone look us in the eye and act like it cares? Laugh with us? Validate our human nature? Not just process our words, but read between the lines and process the feelings behind our words? In case you can't tell where I'm going with this, my answer to that is no. Having said that, I'm sure there are some technology enthusiasts that would disagree with me, and that eventually, if not already, technology will have an answer to that as well. Until then though....I suggest lifting your head up from the screen once in awhile!
So, what is it about those sort of experiences that make us feel good? Not only did the experience make me feel good, because I got the exact information I needed, and some delicious mango, but I'm sure the man who helped me felt great as well. The reason I surmise he also felt fulfilled, aside from the big smile on his face, is because his role in that space was validated by me. That type of validation reminds me of something we talk about a great deal in my dialogue work. A core desire of all human beings, regardless of your background or belief system, are the following three things: to be heard, understood, and valued. While I was getting the exact information I needed, and some delicious mango, he was being heard, understood, and valued. We both got something we wanted, whether we were consciously aware of it at the time or not. Real face to face interaction like that isn't a "zero sum" game like the exchange of information between a human being and a piece of technology. When you ask a question to google, you get your answer, and you're satisfied and happy, but did it make "google" feel good about itself? Once again, I'm sure there are some technology enthusiasts that would argue we're not too far away from artificial intelligence that WOULD feel good about the exchange....but, for now, my answer is no, google does not care either way.
Until we "merge with the machine" one day, we need to be responsible with technology, and try to remember that we're still human, and we have human needs. We are indeed "social creatures," so some of those needs include a sense of community, connection, and genuine communication. There's a quote that perfectly describes the point I'm trying to make by one of the "greats" in the field of dialogue, Mortimer Adler, and it goes as follows, "Without communication, there can be no community." I couldn't agree more, and I think this quote is a short and simple explanation for why so many people tend to feel isolated and disconnected in big cities. Everyone walks around in crowded places, ignores the people they're bumping into, while staring into their device, and then wonders why they're feeling stressed. I had happened to "demote" my phone that day, but I can only imagine how many great experiences, big and small, that I may have missed out on in past similar situations when I didn't make the same decision. Whether you're in the produce section looking for mangoes, on a bus, or at a park, I suggest lifting your head up from your phone once in awhile, and not only seeking the information you're looking for, but also seeking a bit of connection, you just might find both.