About a year ago, I was struggling with an overuse of social media and the internet. I was spending way more hours on the computer than I wanted to be and wasting so much time and energy on the silliest of things, like “Can We Guess Your Mental Age? – Take the Quiz!” or “The 24 Cutest Animals of All Time.” I felt discontented with my life and overwhelmed by all the excess of information constantly flooding into my head. How could I even focus on trying to do the right thing when all my extra time was spent online? Deciding it was time to do something about it, I started severely controlling my computer time – forcing myself to use sites like Facebook or Pinterest only once or twice a week, for a limited amount of time. I actually set timers to alert me when my time was up. With my newfound free time, I started falling back in love with activities I had always enjoyed, such as reading, crafting and cooking. I suddenly had so much potential to be useful to more people, because I was no longer wasting hours of my life away on the computer.
The world we are living in today is only increasing in its advancement of technology, entertainment and variety. With all the noise going on around us, it is so easy to lose sight of the basics of life that make it fun and beautiful – such as our job, which is the simple combination of good and truth into a use. Or loving others by experiencing their joy as our own; if we are consistently stuck behind computers, TV’s, or phones, how can we truly connect with other people? Instead of spending so much of our time in a virtual world, why not go outside and experience more of the real world?
I took a term off of college this spring, to volunteer organic farm in rural Ireland. I chose to embark on this adventure for a few different reasons, including a desire to learn more about livestock farming, to learn a bit in the world’s classroom, and to return to the lovely British Isles, where I have always felt so instantly at home in each place I have visited there. I certainly learned a lot about farming and the lifestyle that goes with it, in addition to a lot about Irish culture and history – but I also learned a few lessons beyond all that.
One of the biggest lessons the Irish people taught me, which reinforced my earlier speculations about the use of technology, was the value of simplicity. Especially when you live in suburban America as I do right now, life can very quickly become a bit complex. The rapidness of pace never slows down, going from one thing to the next with constant jobs, school, sports and social events. Ireland can be like this too: a lot of people work and involve their kids in loads of different activities and programs. Living in Ireland was not like living on a separate planet, it is a first world country after all; but there were certainly differences and there is something to be said about the simplicity of their home life.
For example, something as common as a grocery store taught me an interesting lesson. On one of my first days back in the states, as I struggled to readjust to being back home and worked through what they call “reverse culture shock,” I happened to go to the food store with my sister. The moment I walked in, I almost fell over. What an overwhelming place! Pictures and colors and crazy marketing schemes in every direction! Aisle after aisle of every snack, meat and vegetable you can, and can’t, even think of! Have you ever asked yourself why there are 5 different kinds of the exact same, pasteurized, vitamin D whole milk? And at least twenty different kinds of cheese? When you go into the chip aisle, why is it necessary for there to be three different brands of the same flavour of sour cream and onion potato chips? It’s madness, if you really stop to think about it.
In Ireland, even the grocery stores are much more straightforward. You walk in and pick up a jug of milk, a block of cheese, a bag of chips – and the lack of selection makes the whole experience gloriously easy and stress free. It brings to mind the passage from the Word, when Jesus says, “Consider the lilies, how they grow; they labor not, neither do they spin; but I say to you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) It is so easy to clog up our lives and overwhelm our senses and our brain with constant entertainment and having to make choices. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Netflix are now more accessible than ever on ipads and phones, and so easily take us away from the beautiful people and world around us. We become selfish and discontent from a life of too much variety – not getting everything we want, exactly how we want it, can be such a valuable lesson in humility, compromise and acceptance.
While I was away, things I usually take for granted like high speed internet were much harder to come by. Without internet access, I had more time than ever to take long walks on the farm, play with the farmer’s kids, sit and have a chat over tea with his sweet mum, cuddle the newborn lambs…My life was automatically simplified as a result of the way they live and I could reflect and thoroughly process everything that was happening, in addition to helping more people. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not here to say that the internet is evil and useless. It certainly has its uses and many of the advancements in technology have changed the world for the better, by connecting people, spreading education and awareness, and even saving lives. However, I also do not want to see the world lose its sense of community, its love for the neighbour, and its ability to be useful merely because people no longer take the time to live the simple life.