blaming Steve Jobs

June 23rd, 2015

PA020450This afternoon I went into the backyard and noticed a patch where everything has shriveled and the ground is cracked and bare, and although this wretched drought is in its fourth year, it seems like it happened overnight. The garden is dying.

I blame Steve Jobs.

I’ve been blaming Steve Jobs for a whole mess of stuff for a long time now, for the conversations that stopped, the music that ended, the books that disappeared, the kids that went absent, the friends that drifted off and the way the world seems to have shriveled into a hot, lifeless, angry place of crazy strangers. Oh, I know it wasn’t him. It’s a cynical joke. But it was him, and the legion led by him. I saw it happen. I saw it happen with me and I saw it happen with nearly everyone else. And now there is hell to pay.

He was a god to many. But he was never my guru. I never entered that temple, not all the way. The theatrics looked cool, but they disturbed me. There was awesome power and beauty in his works, but I never trusted myself to handle that kind of artillery. It went too fast and too far. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I am too cheap. I bought a laptop. It works fine. It sits on this desk. Every time I use it I have to stop, be still, and do only one thing. I do not carry it in my hands or put it in my purse, pocket or car. It is not a companion. It is not the world. It is a very small and distorted picture of the world.

I have to wake myself up every minute of every day to realize the difference.

I am probably the only person you know without a smartphone. Please don’t text me.

It seems to me that we have completely confused the world with a picture of the world. We are so adept at manipulating the false picture — with just one thumb — that we have forgotten how to occupy the real world. How to live responsibly and with accountability. How to use our hands and feet and heart. We are so fascinated with artificial intelligence that we have negated our own. We do stupid things. We say stupid things. We shout at each other in tiny digital boxes. We overuse exclamation points.

When we do things directly in the world, instead of through technology, when we speak aloud to one another, meet face-to-face and side-by-side, it is altogether a different experience. It is intimate and alive. Magic, really. You can’t program it. Totally original, one-of-a-kind, without a trademark.

Innovation produces some really neat things, but it can’t be your religion. It won’t soothe or satisfy. It destroys what is to make room for what’s next. To be sure, it’s a naturally occurring cycle, January to December, but it can be sped up to the point of wanton waste and disposability. Suppose every time you were hungry you took only one bite and then tossed the apple. (It got a little brown around the teeth marks.) The earth would be nothing but a landfill of fallen fruit, and we’d all be hungry ghosts, waiting in line all night to grab the next nibble that will once again fail to satisfy.

I know Steve Jobs isn’t to blame. But I blame Steve Jobs.

This is a lousy load to lay at the tomb of a giant and a genius. Although he was arrogant and egotistical, by all accounts Mr. Jobs made amends to estranged friends, family and rivals and was at peace before the end. It’s a given. Everyone reaches the end of ideas when they arrive at the ultimate disruption. I’m going to have to give him a break for everything that troubles me and take responsibility for what’s right here now.

I’m going to have to keep this place alive.

So I’m heading out to walk this world of mine and see what needs doing. To notice the dry spots. Fix what’s broken. Lend a hand. Spare a little more time, a little more water, and a lot more love. I know this in my bones because I preach it, and I preach it because I need it: What you pay attention to thrives, and what you do not pay attention to withers and dies.

What will you pay attention to today?

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  1. As always, enlightening 🙂

    Comment by Darasue — June 23, 2015 @ 2:47 pm

  2. You may be the last person on the west coast without a smartphone but I’m the last person on the east coast without one! I begrudgingly use my husband’s hand me down Blackberry . . .which is to say it typically is not with me, not on,not charged, etc.

    Electronic “communication” and social media kidnapped my friendships at a time of life (middle age) and a set of circumstances (a move, marriage and baby) that are challenging enough to friendships as it is. I’ve finally relinquished the fight and give and receive attention where it is received and given.

    Comment by Laura — June 24, 2015 @ 3:50 am

  3. Yes, I agree.
    Lately I think I am lucky to be 66 years old and on the downhill trip. I am not happy with what I see, lack of connection with others and our world.

    I, too, am amongst the few holdouts, not using a Smartphone.

    Thank you, as always for bringing me back to this very moment.


    Comment by Jude Smith — June 24, 2015 @ 3:50 am

  4. I appreciate your transparency Karen; letting your own vulnerability show. I’ve been working with what happens even when I have paid attention and something still withers and dies. Seeing the progression of things/situations/people; even when it doesn’t look or feel natural.
    Bearing witness. Can I bear witness to all of who I am; showing compassion to my own self, to be able to share this with others?
    Thich Nhat Hanh says,”No mud, no lotus.”
    Thank you.

    Comment by Mary — June 24, 2015 @ 5:01 am

  5. I love this. Gorgeously written and deeply true. Thank you.

    Comment by Holly — June 24, 2015 @ 5:20 am

  6. As always, a nourishing and lovely reminder to focus me on the right things in my day.

    Comment by Sarah — June 24, 2015 @ 5:45 am

  7. Such a wonderful message, Karen. Gives me a lot to think about. But your message is to DO, to Pay Attention, not to simply think. 🙂

    Comment by Carolyn — June 24, 2015 @ 8:22 am

  8. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s DOG might help as you walk along. Recently I’ve let DOG back into my memory after so many years when I was a kid. DOG helps.

    The dog trots freely in the street
    and sees reality
    and the things he sees
    are bigger than himself
    and the things he sees
    are his reality
    Drunks in doorways
    Moons on trees
    The dog trots freely thru the street
    and the things he sees
    are smaller than himself
    Fish on newsprint
    Ants in holes
    Chickens in Chinatown windows
    their heads a block away

    Comment by Bobby Byrd — June 24, 2015 @ 9:07 am

  9. Bobby:
    You’re a chicken in my Chinatown. Deep gassho.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 24, 2015 @ 10:55 am

  10. I think I am the only person I know who is not on Facebook. Sometimes I look at it (my son and my husband are on it) and most often, it leaves me cold. It seems that everyone is advertising their lives….marketing them. Husbands wish their wives (” the love of my life”) Happy Anniversary, parents congratulate their kids on their achievements. Do they also do this with such passion and enthusiasm at the breakfast table, I wonder? Are they just doubling down on the good wishes? For whose benefit is it, really? I see family members to whom I have sent gifts, spending a lot of time there, though they can’t seem to find a minute to scribble a thank you, email or otherwise. Or to ask about, or send a hello to my mother (their grandmother) who they know has been in and out of the hospital. Maybe if she goes on Facebook they will reach out to her? She has doted on them, with gifts, love and money since they were babies, and yet, they can’t bother to take a moment to wish her well.

    And it isn’t just a Western thing. When we were at Everest Base Camp last Fall, gazing up at mountain, the skies miraculously clear, the prayer flags waving in the soft breeze … surrounded by a palpable holiness that melted one to the core, an SUV screeched up and about 6 Chinese kids got out and raced up to the little hill where we were sitting. They all had Iphones in their hands. They turned their backs to the mountain, and started taking selfie videos and yelling into their phones. Not one of them really took in the place. They screeched and scrambled and finally left, probably to race to the next site. If it had not been so jarring and sad, it would have been comical. Thinking of it still shakes me.

    Thank you for this, dear Maezen. I am now going to stop my rant and turn my attention to my mother for a good part of the day. XO

    Comment by Clare — June 24, 2015 @ 11:26 am

  11. I have an old phone with no camera or smart stuff on it. It is rarely switched on – (well – SOMEONE has to look where they’re going don’t they ?)It is over 10 years old. I don’t do Facebook, twitter or any of those other social media things that get people excited. I am a “grumpy old woman” who is not afraid to say that it all passes me by and I don’t actually understand it- or need it. I have no TV. The computer is unfortunately a necessity as most utility companies I use are IT based. I get by just fine with my garden, my books, my husband, my pastimes and my thoughts. I know some people may consider that I am deprived. Not at all. I’ve never felt richer or happier.

    Comment by Debbie - Norfolk, England — June 24, 2015 @ 11:42 am

  12. It’s true, Debbie. You never have been richer or happier. Thank you for sharing your riches with me.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 24, 2015 @ 11:50 am

  13. Maezen, I am a baby boomer, living in Pennsylvania. I own no smartphone, do not text and Facebook scares me. Fortunately I remember a rich life without the current technology interfering with reality. Geez, I even hang out my laundry.
    Thank you for your posts. They are a breath of sanity in a world I hardly recognize.

    Comment by Kay — June 24, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

  14. No smart phone on me. Solidarity! So true. We all need to “wake up” and embrace the actual real world that is out there. “It seems to me that we have completely confused the world with a picture of the world.” This spoke to the deepest recesses of my soul. So true. This was so refreshing. We may be outnumbered, but we are not alone. Unplug!

    Comment by dunce two — June 24, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

  15. And yet this is the world and we can learn to work within it, using the technology to create different connections and authentic joy… I was part of an Online Meditation Crew for years, and when my mother died it was the only thing that could sustain me. I reached out whenever I was falling, and there was always someone online who wrote back to me, with dharma teachings and with love. Sacred space was Always Present, because we existed across timezones and countries, we colonised the Internet for genuine compassion and metta.

    I remember once there was an earthquake a a huge loss of life. We collaborated by doing a three day long sit, where we all took a timeslot (like a relay), and across the globe, one after the other – we sent out our hearts.

    It is true that there is something that will never be replaced by skin to skin, face to face love. But it is also true that technology can highlight and support us to see the interconnectedness of all beings. It is a new way of creating community – and I love it and I am not ashamed.

    Comment by Kelly — June 24, 2015 @ 2:28 pm

  16. Not on Facebook. Ever. Despite attempts to bully me into it by friends only wanting to be “friends”. So that’s at least four or five of us! We are legion!

    Comment by Laura — June 24, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

  17. Maezen, I read this essay early this morning and it’s been on my mind all day. I’ve paid attention to what I’ve paid attention to — both the serenity of a friend’s garden AND texts from a son far away. Both are important to me, and the truth is, my phone keeps me connected to my grown children; texting can be its own form of intimacy and I wouldn’t give it up in favor of silence or the occasional call from my kids. Still, I take your point. Grateful for your reminder to get out there and find a way to be useful. (Even if sometimes, for me, that means sending a text that says, “thinking of you.”)

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — June 24, 2015 @ 6:03 pm

  18. Katrina, to be sure, I keep my LG Cosmos .99-cent pay-as-you-go phone nearby so my daughter can text me with her progress on the train ride home from school (“at union”, “two stops from highland”, “at south pas”). She is uncomfortable with voice communication. Recently she discovered an app on her phone that allows her to order a complicated, customized Starbucks drink and have it waiting in pristine readiness at the pickup counter when she runs in so she does not have to transmit her intention to a human being.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 24, 2015 @ 6:33 pm

  19. Criminy, what a rant I made. I sound like a stuffy, crabby old lady.

    Funny, but out of all this, I have to admit that texting with my son has become sweet to me. We don’t do it terribly often, but the thread runs the gamut from Giants talk during the games, to recipe reminders, to a quick question about his girlfriends favorite colors. I love seeing the little dots of activity that means he is replying.

    Again, sorry for the excessive ranting above. Ugh.

    Comment by Clare — June 25, 2015 @ 7:30 am

  20. Nothing you do is excessive, Clare. We’re not talking about cutting off communication. We’re just talking about talking. Love you.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 25, 2015 @ 7:34 am

  21. Dear Karen; pretty regularly I find myself wondering about the meaning of monasteries and monks for us as a society, many are closing down here in Europe. What use is it that there are people who pray for 5 hours a day and tend to their garden in the rest of their time? (This often happens after thinking about the work of Dom.van der Laan I guess their prayer and reflection become part of an undercurrant our collective unconcious. I guess we need them now more than ever.
    Today I had a long emotional conversation with a sad mother in our school. Talks like that bounce around in my body and mind for the rest of the day (I wonder how therapists do that). I guess digital communication is easier than that. Have a wonderful day.

    Comment by Simone — June 25, 2015 @ 12:31 pm

  22. Refreshing and reashuring observations that validate what I believe in and make me feel I’m in real good company. My lap top also sits in place and doesn’t move around or travel.I have a tracphone with no contracts and no strings attached it gets older and more outdated by the second but it serves me fine.I’ve been forced to learn a lot about it because of work but it probably does things I’ll never learn and don’t need to know.It is a necessity for safety reasons in the very mobile city I live in.So there, I shrink in my seat when I’m sharing a meal with people who “have” to answer the phone and conduct a conversation I’m forced to listen to.So, thank you for making me feel better instead of battered by so much disregard and disrespect.Namaste.

    Comment by daisy marshall — June 25, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

  23. I had this thought yesterday that maybe in another 20 years letter writing and phone calls on a landline will suddenly be the new old way in the way sewing, canning, and chicken keeping and gardening and other normal ways of life and skills that we gave up are being embraced …

    My seven year old son wanted his ‘own’ dial phone and reliably we found one in an antique store. Be sure to snap yours up everyone if you don’t still have your own original!

    Comment by Laura — June 25, 2015 @ 3:27 pm

  24. no one to blame
    it’s all a choice
    if we choose differently there won’t be a need to blame

    Comment by MJ — June 26, 2015 @ 9:44 am

  25. I asked my husband to read this, and he did. He is a writer, a good one, but doesn’t meditate. He loved this piece, and wants to assign it in his classes at the university where we work. Then, we both received an email from our school about participating in a paid study about “mindfulness.” Participants will receive pay, and they can not have ever meditated before. For only a second he wanted to do it (We are not well paid.), but then it said participants must have a smart phone. We don’t have those either–and he had heard me explain your stance on the use of the word “mindfulness” these days–as well as all of the scientific studies related to meditation. We got a good laugh out of it for sure. Anyway–I loved this piece too. I will read it, and reread it for sure.

    Comment by tara — June 26, 2015 @ 11:54 am

  26. This just in: The people who killed the watch want to sell you a watch.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 26, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

  27. I pay attention to you.

    Comment by Bill — June 26, 2015 @ 4:27 pm

  28. Thank you for this . It will serve as a reminder that anything can be used skillfully or unskillfully, and renews my desire to use my smartphone skillfully as in reading this thoughtful piece.

    Comment by Katie Senn — July 1, 2015 @ 6:07 pm

  29. I love your calm and restful blog, it is one of the few I read. Who has time to waste when we are given so little in the first place and there is so much to realize?
    I often think of Steve Jobs with the same thoughts you have. I ruminated on him so much one day, I came to a few surprising conclusions.
    1. Steve Jobs was a god to the tech junkies with the mind of an engineer and one of the few of his breed to bring Paramahansa Yogananada’s work into the spotlight. He named the book often and even planned to have it distributed at his funeral. If this made even an extra hundred people go out and try to connect with Autobiography of a Yogi, then that is something at least.
    2. I wonder, given that our purpose here seems to be to connect with a Nature at the very least, and then our Source, why a distraction so great as a Smartphone and a pile of I-Devices rose up from the ether…and it did seem to have to happen at some point, Steve Jobs or not. Why is this generation given this seemingly insurmountable challenge? I truly believe the result of all this technology hasn’t come to its final destination, we are destined to integrate the convienence of our devices without being their slaves, simply because all of us at one point has been ignored by our loved ones. It’s not a great feeling. There will be a time we burn out of Facebook and the like, just as a culture we are finally burned out of reality TV. Documenting your life will be crass and obtuse. I can almost see it….
    3. This has been so long in coming, since the invention of the radio, which sucked the attention of plenty of human beings back in its time. What did my parents have? What was the big distraction of their time? They had the new invention: TV. My parents had the TV turned on constantly. They still do. It took until I was an adult to make the
    decision to watch less and care less about the God TV. My brother played the Atari all
    morning until my mother threw him out. If my mother played video games, what kind of an example would she be? We as parents need to demonstrate self control.

    I guess to nutshell, I truly believe this is only the halfway point. The technology may develop but we are pesky, moody, beautiful humans with the ability to discern and feel and all the shiny newness of ignoring the natural world or vying to capture it just so on
    a selfie stick will eventually stop being interesting. Nothing will ever satisfy us like deep contemplation, the inner peace that floods in from Source. Steve Jobs’ path of destruction will eventually be overshadowed by the teachings of Yogananda (and the great masters of many paths) that seemed to resonate in him. These obstacles make the struggle for freedom that much harder but again and again we are born to swim
    upstream. It’s our destiny, regardless of trend.

    Comment by Cheryl — July 11, 2015 @ 7:46 am

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