Did anyone else notice the weird, sulphurous light that flooded Melbourne on Thursday morning as the sun shone through blessed rain pouring down after a relentlessly hot night? I nearly missed it, as I had my nose in the newspaper, reading a salutary article by Carolyn Cage about the destructive effects addiction to social media can have on a vulnerable person’s psyche.
I suspect that my contemporaries - people in their 50s and 60s - don’t suffer as much as Cage’s generation do from the potentially devastating effects of social media on self-esteem. Anecdotal evidence, and my own use of Facebook, would suggest that we are less likely to make others feel inadequate by portraying perfect lives on social media. My FB friends tend to be surprisingly open about their struggles.
There is another fallout, however, from habitually burying our noses in smart phones and iPads: the loss of the ability to notice and marvel at ordinary life. This was captured years ago in a Michael Leunig cartoon showing one of his little men sitting with a child on his lap, watching transfixed as a sunset lit up his TV screen. Outside, the real sunset was blazing in all its glory, but he didn’t notice it. As one of our kids said to a sibling when they were absorbed in a Gameboy as we drove through the country, ‘the graphics are better out the window’.
How do we hone our powers of observation and of wonder? There are three practices that I have found invaluable in becoming increasingly aware of the quirky, the humorous, the shocking, the beautiful and the miraculous in real life, not what is being pedalled to me on the tiny screen.
The first is some sort of mindfulness practice. For me this takes the form of Christian meditation, but meditators of all faiths and none will attest to the fact that when they are regular in this discipline, their powers of observation increase.
A second is always choosing to walk rather than drive if it is at all possible. Walking provides the perfect pace to notice the little things – a rainbow lorikeet in the trees in Royal Park, the smell of lemon scented gums after rain, the never-the-same-twice cloud patterns in the sky.
The third is minimising my use of devices. Getting my eyes and ears away from the fancy food pics and the puppy videos, enticing as they are, and becoming attuned to the more subtle but infinitely more satisfying wonder all around.
This was published in The Melbourne Age on 17 March 2017