I recently met a young man with autism who is an extremely talented photographer. I didn’t have to be told he was on spectrum. I picked up the ASD vibe from him right away.
I watched as he walked up to a fountain, settled himself on the ground, and rested his arms and chin on the ledge. He sat there, peacefully smiling and watching the graceful movement of the water for a solid 15 minutes.
I felt sad as I watched him.
Not for him, but for myself.
The only time I can sit peacefully for 15 minutes is when I’m engrossed in a book. Otherwise, I constantly fiddle with my smart phone or on my laptop. Checking social media. Checking news websites. Always, always seeking that input. I think I subconsciously fear that I’m “missing out” on something. Which is silly. Because I don’t feel fulfilled after my perusing is complete. The only part of the online experience I find particularly fulfilling is when I write.
I notice it especially when I hang out with friends. Over drinks. At dinner. During game nights. I sit and watch and wait and see how long it takes for someone to reach for their smart phone. This game that I silently play never lasts longer than ten minutes. Actually, I think ten minutes is being generous. On road trips to the beach or the mountains, one of my fellow road-trippers is inevitably glued to his/her phone. The. Entire. Time. Twenty-somethings’ attention spans have been so eroded that we literally jump at the first opportunity to disengage ourselves from our present interpersonal interactions.
It would make me angry.. if I wasn’t guilty of it myself.**
It didn’t use to be like that. Until my family finally got home internet in 2002 (I swear, I was the last kid in my school), my life was wonderfully devoid of the internet and social media. My cousins and I did things kids are supposed to do. We were outside all the time. We were in constant motion, we played, we used our imaginations. In the summer, we would play outside all afternoon, only returning for bathroom breaks or food. We’d ride our bikes. We’d play in the pool for 8 straight hours. On snow days, we’d sled in my aunt’s backyard until well after it was dark.
We exhausted ourselves. We made memories.
I’m nostalgic for that. For deriving pleasures from the simplest things on a daily basis.
In that way, I think some of the people I know who are on the autism spectrum (my brother included), are light-years ahead of us neurotypicals.
The young man who sat and smiled at the fountain.
Dude, who would walk for hours on the beach if left to his own devices.
I can’t help feeling that in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be taking notes from our neuro-diverse friends in how to interact socially. The current model we operate under is that they need to engage with us in a manner that we recognize as appropriate. They’re the minority, so they need to adapt to us.
But are we really the ones to talk/teach when we can’t go more than ten minutes without craving our smart phones and disengaging from those around us?
He may not interact in ways that society deems “typical,” but I can tell you with 1000% certainty that Dude is completely genuine in every interaction he has. There is no artifice behind his smiles and his belly laughs. If he is experiencing joy, you see it in his entire body. With Dude, what you see is what you get.
Sometimes, I think that is what I appreciate most about my brother. His ability to be fully in the present. To slow me down. To help me appreciate the little things.
So.. I’m not sure what the point of this post was. I guess I’ve been feeling a little unfulfilled in my daily life. I saw the young man at the fountain and it contrasted so starkly with my inability to detach myself from my phone/laptop that it simply hit a nerve. I’m just craving something…meaningful.
Selfishly I wish society as a whole could just take a step back from this technology-driven monster we’ve created. Since that isn’t going to happen, I’ll change what I can control… myself.
**(Though to be fair, I am legitimately not guilty of being on my phone when I’m a passenger in a car.. mainly because I get terribly carsick when I try to read anything. I also don’t text and drive because I’m interested in.. you know.. staying alive.)