First, some housekeeping, in deference to my Baby Boomer cohort of musicologists who understandably might be mentally correcting that headline to match the spelling of the ’60s folk rock band The Byrds.
That group, fronted by Roger (nee Jim) McGuinn, definitely is part of my playlist (who can resist the equine ecstasy whinnied by the trio of guitars on Chestnut Mare?).
Those are not the birds of which I speak at the moment, however. I’m talking about the avian creatures whose sweet tweets greet me as I make my ambulatory rounds on a daily stride to which I’ve grown accustomed, not to mention addicted.
In these sweltering summer days, stepping out first thing in the morning clears the cobwebs and minimizes the perspiration—though nobody ever was worse for wear from a rigorous pore purge.
But I digress, because the point I am circling around is not so much when I venture out as why.
To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, as they say. Likewise, to every behavioral mutation—such as squeezing life out of our phones in an unyielding death grip—there evolves an instinctive reflex by renegades to push back against the robotic mind control to which we surrender. (Make no mistake: social media’s business model is mind control.)
Translation: the more we let devices direct our attention nearly every micro-moment of the day, the more advisable it becomes to find an antidote to our mounting obsession with non-stop (and often nonsensical) sensory stimulation—which rhymes with medication.
There’s a book whose title succinctly sums up the emerging ethos of reclaiming your sense of humanity from the electronic ecosystem that echoes in our consciousness: “24/7: Digital Minimalism” (by Cal Newport, Portfolio/Penguin Random House 2019). The subtitle is “Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.”
As its website says (calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism), the book is about “rediscovering the pleasures of the offline world.”
What’s wrong with that picture? When we’ve reached a point where the “offline” world is regarded as an alternate universe—a side hustle to which we must return to regain a semblance of self and sanity—it’s as if we’re all droids enslaved in The Matrix.
TWO FACES OF FACEBOOK
The only way to wrest back our equilibrium—even if only temporarily—is to unplug and unglue ourselves from the gridlock of cyberspace, which doubles as both womb and tomb. (Think of it as the two faces of Facebook—warm and neighborly vs. nasty and lethal. When it comes to the toxicity of social media—where intellect gasps for oxygen and nuance is nuked—the less time spent there can only be good medicine for anyone’s mental health.)
That’s why, these days, when I lift my clarity by lifting one foot at a time in forward motion, I follow the advice of numerous wellness gurus who preach the gospel of bathing our spirits in fragrant fresh air that’s devoid of synthetic distractions like earbuds, which serve only to impurify our holy communion with Mother Nature.
Besides, why infiltrate my skull with man-made sounds when what’s inside of it is being cleansed by an “offline” world whose heavenly birds are the only playlist I need for my soul to take wing?
Going earbudless, I felt the difference immediately. All the senses are freed and heightened when but one of them is liberated.
With every step in the street, I could hear the soft crackle of asphalt meeting my rubber soles.
I took more minute note of the flora that passed me by as I passed by it.
I paid attention anew to the incremental variations in the façades of homes built at different times as I coursed through the cul-de-sacs of my cookie-cutter development.
I marveled at the gnarled bark on the oldest trees, wondering how many centuries they have stood sentry.
I’d love to tell you more of the revelations arising on my constitutionals, but it’s that time again. Nature calls, not to the outhouse, but to the great outdoors.
Bruce Apar is a writer, actor, consultant, and community volunteer. He can be reached at email@example.com; 914-275-6887.