Since then things have changed; not in the way Timothy Leary and others would have desired. Many of the conventions of Leary’s days have stayed with us, some becoming even more entrenched. Leary’s hoped for new consciousness has yet to be fully realised.
In 1967 consumerism was something relatively new, having only since World War 2 really begun its pernicious rise to an almost overarching goal of humanity. Television had just made its way into most households over the previous decade. The telephone was firmly attached (via telephone wires) within the confines of private homes. Photographs, if taken at all, were taken by black-and-white cameras and the film then taken to a chemist (or other outlet) for developing and printing. The final photograph was not available for viewing until two or three days (or more if the film roll was still in the camera) after the photograph had been taken. Digital photos were still three decades away. Movies were something to be seen only in theatres. Even recorded music could only be personally listened to by purchasing a record (45 or LP) and taking it home to play on a record-player.
The rapid rise in technology since 1967, gaining even more momentum with the coming of the new millennium, has resulted in society becoming ever more bound by convention than it had been when Leary said his famous words.
Today, it may be more appropriate to call for society to turn off, tune out, drop in.
In 2019 more than 1.5 billion mobile phones were sold globally. That is almost 3,000 every minute! There are now more than 14 billion mobile phones in the world – almost two for every single man, woman, and child on the planet.
Our fascination with the mobile phone has grown to such an extent that it could be claimed that mobile phone use is our number one addiction. Many may be inclined to think this is mainly an addiction confined to young people. Not so. American research shows that there is little difference in the ownership of mobile phones over all age groups.
Addiction has a number of characteristics, including: an inability to stop the behaviour, withdrawal from social interaction, keeping a steady supply, risky behaviours, obsessing, and denial. Can anyone reasonably claim that these characteristics are not applicable to mobile phone use? Unless of course, the last of these characteristics – denial – takes centre stage.
We know the damaging side effects of this addiction. Excessive use of mobile phones can induce: headaches, insomnia, fatigue, memory loss, and dizziness. The use of mobile phones has seen an increase in rates of depression and suicide amongst American teens following the release of the iPhone and iPad, according to some studies.
Social interaction is lessened by the use of mobile phones. This phenomenon is easily attested to by simply observing people in everyday situations.
A mobile phone, of course, is no longer simply a phone. It is, especially Smart Phones, a complete entertainment and communications centre.
In 2015 the number of hours spent watching a screen (TV, PC, mobile/Smart phone, tablet) ranged from an average of two and a half hours in Asia/Pacific to almost five hours in North America. That is just the average. Many, of course, are consuming many more hours than this. Studies show a strong correlation between screen viewing time and obesity. There is also a correlation with unreal perceptions of crime, resulting in greater fear of crime. This leads inevitably to an increase in victim identification.
This excess of “screen-time” and passively consuming entertainment naturally has an unhealthy impact upon social interactions. Combined with the use of mobile phones and similar devices it is little wonder that feelings of isolation, alienation, and loneliness are increasing. The sad corollary of this is that these feelings can be drivers towards other forms of addiction, especially drug and alcohol addictions.
Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a small, but growing, awareness that many of the ills of the world stem from our disconnection from nature, from each other, and even from our own selves.
Many experiments and methods in eco-psychology, re-wilding, deep ecology, permaculture, and other nature-based practices, are attempting to re-discover our connections.
Some have suggested that by using these methods it is possible to drop in to our proper relationship with nature. We can drop in to our rightful and unique niche in the fabric of the world.
Far from dropping out, we are no longer seeing nature, and other people, as separate from us. We are not islands, entire unto ourselves. We are connected, and we drop in to our place, much like a jigsaw piece in the bigger picture.
1. Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was an American psychologist and writer who advocated strongly for the use of psychedelic drugs.