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Photo Courtesy Ashim D’Silva via Unsplash

This morning, everything changed.

I’d grabbed my coffee, jumped in the car, flipped on the radio and gotten ready to roll.  Just like every other morning

But when I touched the radio screen, Sirius was gone!

ALL gone – save for an automated promo loop telling me my subscription had run out.

What? I thought.

All my carefully chosen, pre-programmed choices, all gone.

“What!” I said.

Sure, this was my first ever Sirius radio subscription – it came with the car when I got it apparently —  make that exactly —  1-year ago. And sure, they’d sent the usual re-subscribe notices, but I ignored them.

Cold reality set in. To be honest, my first reaction was to look for a re-subscribe option on the screen. You know, something connected to my credit card so I could just click YES and go on with my day. Get back to my comedy or jazz or talk or whatever I’d programmed.

But there was no instant re-subscribe option. To be honest, I was surprised and even a little bit uncomfortable – how first-world-problem embarrassing is that? My satellite radio subscription had run out. Boo hoo. But the real discomfort came from the realization that my routine would be a little different today….

You see, I’d gotten into that insidious ‘groove’ that we’re all falling into these days. You know the one – the gentle ‘hey, you just give us a credit card and we’ll quietly just take out a little charge when it’s time and your life will go on uninterrupted’ sort of quiet hypnotic life-groove.

The Groove that says ‘don’t wake ’em up and have them actually consider what they’re doing’ groove. The groove that got deeper when Software as a Service (SaaS) went mainstream.

It’s the EZ Pass groove; the don’t think about how much we’re charging you to go over the Tappan Zee Bridge groove, or the ridiculous amount we’re quietly charging you to enjoy the sights and smells of the Midtown Tunnel.

‘Just keep going.’ it whispers,  ‘And look! No lines!’

Give us a number, an expiration date, and click a box; we’ll just deduct it and you get to stay in your semi-comatose state-of-ease-groove.

But I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t given anyone a credit card number. I’d fallen out of The Groove! And I received a jarring awakening.

Awakenings are good things, and this one also got me to thinking – something I suspect most graphite-slick marketers and purveyors of the matrix-like instant-update Groove most certainly don’t want you to do.

Yes, I thought.

And then I realized something.

I realized, in this moment of grooveless non-subscription, I’d been listening to a Muzak soundtrack of my life – lovely, perfect, soulless and predictable – for the better part of a year! Consuming at the all you can eat 24/7 content bar of Sirius, and lulled into a sort of complacency.

And I realized this because without familiar and predictable Sirius I had to venture into the wild. There was no way I was going to drive to work – heck, do anything – without some constant chatter going on, right? It seems Silence has gotten really loud for most of us; it’s best to drown it out with noise, right? So back I went. AM/FM. Live. All of a sudden I was listening to a DJ from my old favorite local station.

He was in real time, and talking about current stuff!

It felt a little like wiping the sleep from my eyes after a nap; coming to, suddenly focusing. It was engaging – some part of my mind that had been switched into ‘consume only’ mode via Sirius was now in ‘engage/consider/think’ mode.

It was glorious!

Because there was a something real on the other end of my ear-stream! A real live human being broadcasting in real time from a place I could really drive to if I wanted.

Ironically, I’d actually worked with this guy doing some studio production – his name’s Anthony – so I knew he was real. And the station (WEHM, btw, for the Hamptons and the North Fork, where I spend most of my time), is decidedly non-programmatic, which is why I’d always listened to it in the first place.

How had that ingrained habit changed so quickly over the course of a mere year? And the weirdest thing of all was just that: it felt weird to be listening to someone live, and in real time.

But it wasn’t bad weird – it was good weird. Refreshing. Comforting even. Heck, this voice coming from my speakers was someone I could pick up the phone and call, right then. Interrupt his broadcast even.

Something I could never do on Satellite radio.

It was a human moment. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed that imperfect richness.

Jarred from the graze-and-consume coma of anything-you-want Sirius, I felt something. I became more aware – not just of the radio, but of everything around me – and felt that much more alive. I had to actively engage, not just let the noise drip in, because in its unpredictability it demanded my attention. I could almost feel my synapses firing a bit better.

Which, again, got me to thinking – yes, thinking. Pesky habit, but sometimes useful.

As a writer and brand communications strategist I thought – as I often do – about perception, and what the digital age means, beyond the hype and shiny veneer, for all us humans out there.

And it also got me to thinking about re-marketing, and the effects of what hyper-targeted tracking (howdy Google!) is likely doing to all of us in the name of convenience, commerce and profit.

Disconnect to Connect Better

The irony, I’ll argue, is this: rather than making the world, our knowledge and experience, more connected and expansive today’s internet, with its burgeoning practices of behavioral profile-building, data-mining and search results informed by previous patterns, is actually making our overall experience smaller, and more disconnected. It leaves us less exposed to new ideas, not more, and thus less curious.

By making each search incrementally more custom-tailored, with every passing day we discover more of what we already comfortably know, which means we actually discover less the more we search. As a result, our exposure to the jarring unexpected, to the new, is increasingly limited and makes some pacified, homogenized dystopian-science-fiction-novel future much more likely.

Each day we become more numb to the possibilities outside of what we already know, tracked by ads we’ve shown some fleeting interest in, and being fed search results reflective of those things which we’re most likely to want based simply upon that with which we are already most familiar and have already experienced.

And so smaller and smaller we go, and our history and profile becomes more, ah, refined.

The problem is you lose perspective, seeing only what an algorithm thinks will most likely be of interest to you – which by definition is something you already know about or have shown interest in.

And while that might seem efficient, it is extremely limiting in terms of the human experience.

As this process unfolds, and we spend more and more time connected to the digital world, we are no longer exposed to the new. The unexpected. Those things that keep our minds agile, our creativity flexible and our lives interesting. New experiences, good or bad, spark rich fulfilling lives, and pave the way for what it means to be human.

We are losing that.

When we are fed an ever-narrowing a diet of what we have already experienced we lose, bit by bit, our humanity. Our ability to feel. To empathize. Becoming satisfied and comfortable and placid dullards. Or, worse, isolated, agitated and lost in a hyper-connected world.

And when we are less than human, set numbly adrift and lose touch with what it means to feel, tragedies occur.

I don’t have to name events. It is becoming a daily occurrence to which we are fast becoming desensitized. Ours is an increasingly ominous trajectory.

How to Regain Your Humanity and Feel Alive Again

You must disconnect periodically.  Clear your cache, both real and metaphorical. Listen to something live, even if it’s a little rough around the edges. And connect face-to-face with people whenever possible. You can’t think your way there; you have to act, and actually do this.

Don’t send the silent perfection of an email, or think you know someone by their carefully constructed social veneer.

“Why?” you ask, “I’m busy!” you say. Why go to all this trouble?

Because, with all due respect, you’re not Busy – you’re just in motion. Stop and think about what you’ve actually produced in the swirl of all of you self-professed ‘Busyness” and you’ll see it’s actually not only very little, but that if you’re not careful, said busyness will become a forever loop going nowhere, rather than leading you to a real destination and place.  And you may find, for all of your busyness and effort, you feel remarkably hollow and unfulfilled, somehow….

Why else? Because of the simple, powerful feeling of connection. The thrill. Because you’re human, you need this, and you may have forgotten.

The visceral joy of feeling actual connection in the moment. The danger-thrill of the non-curated, and the sudden synapse-storm of actual and unpredictable engagement and exploration is the point of being human, even if it rips you out of the muzak-sound tracked, fluorescent-lighted space in your head where you spend most of the time. Is it risky? Maybe. But we’re not put on this planet to exist safely until we die. We’re given Life because we need to Live.

Try it. Be human. Wade in if you must, but plunge if you can. Walk away occasionally. Or, better yet, regularly. Disconnect to connect better with what really matters.

Because trust me, the world is fast becoming split between two opposing teams – the Creators and the Consumers.

And the Creators are the ones in charge; you’ll find them above the fray, out of The Groove and most in touch with what it means to be human and alive.

And the Consumers? Well, if this post was TLDR, it’s okay — you can just go back to sleep now and we’ll wake you in time for your funeral.