You are reading this on the Internet, so you have probably developed some level of digitally-enabled “ambient awareness” – a constantly-updated sense of what’s happening near and far. The Internet can extend our senses round the world, even if it’s just getting the latest snaps from family and friends.

In an excellent article in the New York Times, Clive Thompson talked about the cumulative effect of social media updates: “the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives.”

That’s the upside. The downside is that constantly looking at screens can cut you off from your other senses.

Some of the most digitally-connected people I know notice very little in the world around them: the shifting light, the cooling breeze, the new display in the store window, the fragrance of blossom and sour tang of diesel fumes. The physical world may as well not exist for them.

No matter how many megabits per second the Internet delivers, all that information is slow and thin compared with the huge amounts of sensory information we can access all the time. What good is never missing a beat on all those digital updates if you don’t notice the beating of your own heart?

Image source: Disemboded: Micro-project III, MJ Quek

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