Although I am not a frequent gambler, I understand that is in our nature, as humans, to seek opportunities that offer significant reward, with minimal risk. This explains the allure of games like the slot-machine, the famed one-armed bandit. At the risk of a few coins, one pulls the lever hoping for the golden reward. Despite repeated failures, we continue to play, over and over again. Each time believing that this will be the one time we find success – as if we are afraid that by not playing we will miss something great.
A similar risk-reward calculation seems to govern the relationship we have with electronic devices. For the small risk of a few seconds of our attention, every vibration, beep and ringtone offers the promise of a rewarding new insight or interaction.The result – a new one-armed bandit rules our lives: one-armed parenting, with one hand on the swing and the other checking a text; one-armed hugging, greeting friends while reading an email over their shoulder; one-armed dining, surfing the web while eating; and the very dangerous one-hand driving. We risk experiencing life around us, for the tantalizing reward of something different.
This month we start a new calendar year – 2017. In looking back, how much time did we spend in 2016 living with only one arm? How many minutes spent learning about the status of those miles away, while ignoring individuals who stood within the same room? How many minutes watching the latest viral YouTube clip, while the movie of life played all around?
Living a one-armed life, we are never really present in the moment. This means that we are not completely committed to any one endeavor, event, or person. Those missed opportunities may seem small – a risk worth taking. But added up over the course of the year – how many hours, if not days have we missed?
How have we slowly chipped away at the relationships with those around us, questing after the reward offered by our digital devices? The risks are greater than we realize, and too much of life is passing us by. In the end, no momentary reward gained from an email, text or tweet outweighs the value of engaging with the person actually in front of us.
This year, go all in – wrap both arms around the tasks and people around you. Create times when flesh and blood comes before silicon and plastic. Consider adopting the idea of technology free time – endeavoring to have some hands-free each week, and by that I mean phone free. And for everyone’s safety, let the text or email you receive while driving wait until your trip is over.
In life, there are no rollover minutes. We cannot bank our time from month to month, nor recover time spent living a one-armed life. Make the most of every minute by embracing life with both arms and a full heart.
Wishing you a happy and healthy start to the New Year,
Rabbi Adam Miller