Are you living in the HERE and now – fully immersed in the world around you? Do you sometimes travel THERE – a place deep in the cyberspace? Do you rapidly toggle between these two dimensions, being Neither HERE Nor THERE?
If you do, then you are experiencing the three “states of being” that are common in the digital age: “HERE”, “THERE” and “Neither HERE Nor THERE”.
My first few days in Paris revealed how access to the Internet, anytime/anywhere, changed my experience of the world. In this post, I distinguish the three states and begin the discussion about how our ability to navigate these dimensions might be the difference between a life of fulfillment or emptiness.
Let’s go “HERE"
The State of “HERE”
My wife and I arrived in Paris with no mobile Internet (our AT&T international data plan was virtually useless). “No problem”. We could manage without connectivity for a day. So I peeked outside to do a weather check (cloudy and cold) before we bundled up and set out for a café and then the Louvre.
Without Google Maps, we were soon lost in the higgledy-piggledy streets of the Left Bank. I was having my own “Midnight in Paris” moment - jabbering on about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Ford Madox Ford carousing in these very streets, when they called Paris home in the 1920’s. This kind of “lost” was awesome.
The sky slowly darkened and then suddenly erupted into a downpour; the downpour became freezing sleet. The sleet then transformed into a slicing horizontal attack – propelled by the wind that swept down the river Seine. The attack worsened on the long stretch between the Cathedral Notre Dame and the Louvre, decimating our umbrella - shredding the canopy, turning the ribs inside out and bending the shaft.
No taxis. I found myself twitching for my phone. UBER? If only I could check the Weather.com! No connectivity, no solution!
So we forged onward. Our feeble shield was no match for the onslaught – we were soaked from the waist down. Laughing, grimacing, prodding each other – all to the apparent amusement of Parisians driving by.
Eventually we found refuge under an archway a hundred meters from the entrance to the Louvre and waited. The wind subsided as the sleet turned to snow. We shared a moment of amazed delight with 20 other wet soon-to-be museum-goers.
Lost. Cold. Wet. I was present. I was alive. I was HERE.
Finally inside the Louvre, we opted not to rent the audio tour. Without Internet, there was No Wikipedia, no data fix, and no posting; just centuries of art and my thoughts, feelings, memories and frame of reference.
Soon my monkey mind grew eerily quiet. A universe opened up as I surrendered, again and again, to the beauty and brilliance we happened upon.
Such was the case when our path converged with "Nike of Samothrace". The invincible angel stood atop the helm of a ship and, from across the long hall, she seemed to come to me as much as I was going to her. In her presence I was humbled, uplifted and inspired - with honor and courage anything is possible.
We spent 30 minutes with her; viewing her from different perspectives; standing or sitting near and far.
Sometimes we watched how others discovered her. So many with bowed heads, absorbed for a moment in their own digital world.
And so we spent a magical afternoon untethered from the Internet, "alone" with the magnificence of Venus de Milo, the Borghese Gladiator, the Portrait of Francois I, The Astronomer, the Nymph and Satyr, La Jeune Martyre, and the Mona Lisa.
I was moved and inspired. I was present. I was alive. This is the “HERE” state. I was HERE.
The State of “THERE”
Being “HERE” is an amazing place to be. Equally amazing is being “not HERE”, but “THERE”.
The next day we were connected - our mobile devices had Internet and we had fast WiFi. This was a “work day” and I was deep in cyberspace, working on a new segment of the Way to Mastery workshop I am giving when we return from Europe in May.
My fingers hummed on the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. The iPad ran a slideshow of Matisse paintings. Debussy’s Reverie channeled through my noise cancelling headphones on a continuous loop (part of my routine that enables me scale the levels of cyberspace).
I explored the works and lives of Picasso and Matisse, the heroic, artistic Paris in the first decades of the 20th century, and the literary paragons – Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Immersed in a universe of facts, interpretations, sounds and images, I fleshed out thoughts, explored possibilities, challenged assumptions and created rich mental landscapes.
I was barely aware of the utterly charming 18th century apartment (thank you airbnb) or my wife who drifted in and out of a nap that insisted on interrupting her reading time.
I was romping in the digital universe - cyberspace. I was alive and it was good. This is the “THERE” state. I was THERE.
"The State of “Neither HERE Nor THERE”
Being “THERE” is an amazing place to be; so is being “HERE”. What about the other state we increasingly find ourselves in? I call it the “Neither HERE Nor THERE” state.
Now mobile and online, the D’Orsay Museum was our next destination. I checked Weather.com and confirmed that UBER was up and running in case we needed it. Google Maps guided us efficiently through Left Bank to a recommended patisserie. I checked emails, used Google Translate to interpret the menu and refresh my French, double checked the route to the museum, hit Wikipedia for more info on Van Gogh and Matisse, checked one of my client’s website for updates, pinged the kids with Whatsapp, and scanned CNN, FOX and the NY Times to get a sense of the chaotic 2016 primaries back home.
I must have eaten the almond croissant and drank the café au lait. All the while, Tina and I chatted intermittently (she was posting and texting). All my piddling was of no consequence but seemed important at the moment - just part of everyday life. I was “Neither HERE Nor THERE”.
On the way to the museum, I continually glanced at Google MAPS, intent on staying on course. I watched the traffic lights; peaked at the architecture; responded to a text. I held my iPhone tightly and when possible we held hands.
At the museum, my attention toggled between the paintings, the audio tour, and web searches looking for still more factoids about Van Gogh, his works and other artists of his time.
Now my monkey brain was hopping with ideas, insights and curiosity - so many new data points, more dots to connect, ideas to noodle through, and more data putty to fill my knowledge gaps. I jostled, and was jostled by, other “participants” who toggled between the physical world (HERE) and cyberspace (THERE).
By dinner, our conversation swirled around Matisse, spilling over with new facts, insights, and observations. We dipped into our iPhones to confirm, disprove, remind and knowledge gap fill. The tablecloth became map of Matisse’ life as he traveled the “Way to Mastery”.
We had spent the day toggling between cyberspace and the physical world; barely touching neither as the moments flew by. We were overloaded but something had sprouted from all the input. I was in the "Neither HERE Nor THERE" stated.
So what does all this mean?
In the digital age, we necessarily split our time and attention between two vastly different universes. This has us oscillating between three states of being: “HERE”, “THERE” and “Neither HERE Nor THERE”.
By distinguishing these states you are taking the first step to effectively navigate this new paradigm. Done well, you expand your creativity, become more productive, and relate better to your co-workers, life partners, and children, as well as strangers.
Observe yourself. Observe others. See what happens.