"Turn on, tune in, drop out" is a catchphrase popularized by writer Tim Leary in the 1960's. Leary later explained what he meant when he coined this phrase:
"Turn on" meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. "Tune in" meant interact harmoniously with the world around you - externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. "Drop out" suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. "Drop Out" meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean "Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity".
I would like to suggest we need an new catch phrase in this day and age and what comes to mind is "Unplug, tune in and connect". I think this phrase has a lot in common with the words of Tim Leary, but in this case I mean "unplug" in the lateral sense. As in, take your earbuds out! Our sense of hearing is a precious gift, one that some are born without or lose as they age. To consciously attempt to "block" out the world by playing loud and potentially permanently damaging music suggests a society that has lost its ability to connect, something all human beings need in order to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
Every day I ride transit to work and I would say the majority of the riders, mostly young, are "plugged in" and tuned out. Not only do they not hear the bus driver when he asks them to move to the back of the bus to make room for more people, they don't look up from their Ipods to see an elderly person may need a seat and they certainly can`t seem to walk without getting in everyone`s way! But what is most sad is that those who are plugged in are missing on a great opportunity to relate to their fellow riders. I was recently in Europe and used public transit to get around. Even in the bigger cities like Paris and Milan I did not see many people with ear buds. The younger students were all talking with each other. I believe that generally European culture is more intimate and I know I never have a problem striking up a conversation on a train or bus when I am travelling there.
But in Vancouver where I live and in many other North American cities, this desire to block out the world seems to be an epidemic. Ironically, a recent survey revealed that one in four Vancouverites feels lonely. Is it our fast paced lifestyle, our need for privacy or just plain laziness that has caused what I think is a tragedy to the development of social skills within our society.
I am not sure of the answer, but what I am sure of is that I treasure the moments of unexpected connection where I can participate in some good old fashioned conversation to remind me that I am not alone.