This week we continue our study of technology, relationships, and how the two should relate to each other. In the first post, I presented the problem: that technology is becoming a substitute for relationships, an office it was never meant to hold. In the second post, we looked at six core biblical principles that greatly help us view technology and relationships through a Christian lens. These two posts were much more theological, thirty-thousand-foot views into the issue. This week, we are going to get a bit more practical and down to earth.
The first thing we have to realize when we talk about creating healthy habits around technology and relationships is that there is no formula. Like many other things (discipleship, evangelism, etc.) we cannot merely expect to plug the right variables into our equation to get the bona fide answer. Humans are the most complex creations in all the cosmos. We have differing physiological, emotional, mental, behavioral, social, spiritual capacities that all need to be considered. So, in short, if you’re looking for a “7 Tips to Beat Tech Addiction” post, you won’t find it here. They’re a dime a dozen on the Internet, and obviously they aren’t working.
Here’s the other thing about the words you’ll read below: If I write the rest of this post with the intention of calling you readers to action, and don’t take the time to reflect myself and make strides myself, I have missed the point altogether, far more than you have!
That’s why I’ve decided that instead of creating a list of healthy habits that you need to adopt (a list that I would have to really think about since I wouldn’t be speaking from experience), I am instead going to share with you the practices and habits that I plan to implement in my own life beginning this upcoming week. After the week is up, I will post next Monday on my experience. I have no idea what’s in store. I may break my own practices and thus show the power of technology’s grasp on me. I may learn something new that I feel compelled to share. Nonetheless, I will blog next about what I learned through it. Consider this an invitation to join with me. Maybe what I decide to do doesn’t work at all for you. Maybe it changes your life. But enough with an attitude that sits on its hands. I have to make a change.
No Bible, No Facebook.
I use my phone alarm in the mornings to wake me up, or am eventually woken up by my wife’s alarms. If you do the same, you know what happens next. It’s routine. Roll over, unplug your charger, pick your phone up, turn the alarm off, slide to unlock, check Instagram, check your e-mail, check Facebook, check texts, check calendar, check Twitter, and so on (as if we missed a complete overhaul of our lives between 11PM and 6AM).
The temptation to spend these initial quiet moments in the morning “waking up” with our profiles and feeds is so heavy, at least for me. So that’s why I am resolving to refuse to check my social media accounts, e-mails, and other red-buttoned apps until I’ve made time to get into the Word. And not a “Let’s rush through this Psalm so I can check Twitter,” but an intentional decision to leave the phone at bay and wait to see what (lack of) activity we missed overnight. Those 30 minutes or first hours of the morning are your quietest and least distracting: leverage them and get in God’s Word instead of clearing your notifications, which can just as easily be done at 9AM.
Turn Off Your Mobile Distractions (Notifications)
We’ve all been in a situation like this. Seated at the table with a friend or a family member. We’re engaged in conversation, when suddenly, their text sound dings. They say “Excuse me,” reading it over a time or two. You try to determine if you should keep talking or if you should wait until you have their attention again. They close their phone, put it in their pocket, and you forgive them for their one slight interruption. You both continue talking. Then another sound goes off on their phone. You hear it and smile, knowing they’re a busy person, but certainly not expecting them to pick it up again. And they do. An e-mail flies through, asking for help on a project. Your fellow table-mate apologizes and continues to read and respond, and as they do so, another text comes in. They set the phone on the table to demonstrate that they’re listening, no longer crouching over it like Gollum and the ring, but still caught in its occasional glow, no longer apologizing for glancing.
Push notifications are a great resource to receive instant updates, but they are perhaps the most distracting component of our phones and devices, especially when it comes to relationships. They do make for convenience, but they are abhorrent for efficiency, as rabbit trails abound. This applies in a big way to relationships. If we want to be the kinds of friends who listen well, we have to cut distractions. I am going to take this week to turn all push notifications, buttons, and such completely off. For me, it’s the red button on my apps that are the absolute worst. They stare at me, saying, “Address me!”
Now, I can already hear the pushback. “What about e-mails for work? What about if someone important texts me?” Here’s what I’m going to try: Create a reminder of a 30-minute block to look at your inbox, texts, etc.; even do a couple of these throughout the day if needed. In others, it’s a “blocks of time” approach instead of being constantly interrupted. If it’s that urgent, they will find a way to let you know it, like calling four times in a row. The goal, of course, is to ease distraction, and further, to make our friends feel like they do matter to us after all. Maybe your overflowing inbox isn’t a distraction; leave it be. Just find ways to minimize distraction. No e-mail is more valuable than the image-bearer right across from you.
Begin a Varying Pattern of Total Disconnection
This one will probably be the most challenging for me, but I’m excited to try it. One of my pastors and heroes once told me about his pattern for disconnecting from the world. It doesn’t necessarily have a technological bent, but it can definitely apply to getting away from our apps and messages and into relationship with God and others. Here’s his pattern that I hope to replicate:
- 1 Hour a Day
- 1 Day a Week
- 1 Week a Year
It’s that simple. For one hour of your day, certainly we can put it away. We can’t just find a shortcut, using a staff meeting or dinnertime with family as our hour. Instead, take one hour that you could normally and easily spend browsing or messaging and intentionally find time to spend with your family and with God, disconnected, undistracted. Put the phones on silent and in a basket if you have to. Taking one day a week to turn my phone off entirely and not check it will be much harder, but I think it will be for my good. To the paranoid who feel they need it for emergencies, throw it in the glove box or your purse in case, and that’s it. It will feel like a detox from the clutter of the outside world brings. One week a year seems even more difficult, but I think we can build up to this. We just have to remember what 2003 was like, after all.
As I said before, this is not simply a “7 Steps” recovery program for the tech-addicted. We’re too complex and unique for that kind of instruction. Find what works for you; my only charge is, find something. The above three steps are simple on-ramps toward moving the ball forward. Can you imagine what kind of people we would be relationally if God’s Word took daily priority, we were less interrupted, and even willing to be disconnected for others?
I don’t know how this will turn out for me. But I hope I learn something. I have a feeling I will, and you just might, too. Tune in next week.