Connections & Affections (Part 4)

A photo by Thom.

Today we wrap up the Connections & Affections series. If you’ve missed the first three parts, you can click to read below:

Part 1: The Problem
Part 2: The Principles
Part 3: The Challenge

Last week, I issued myself (and you, if you went for it) a challenge to take the first two posts and begin to assimilate their truth into daily life. It does no good to keep our hands in our pockets and lament the state of our society, remaining sucked into screen lights and not engaged with people. We have to make a change, and it begins with each of us, taking small steps towards significant change. Taking myself up on my own words, I set out to do three new things this week: 1) Daily abstain from social media until I had read my Bible / had solid devotional time, 2) Turn off app notifications (e-mail, texts, social, etc.) to cut distractions, 3) find varying patterns of disconnection altogether (1 hour a day, 1 day a week). Here’s what happened.

1. No Bible, No Facebook.

I honestly did not think this would be as hard as it was. I normally read my Bible most days at varying parts of the day. Most of the time early in the morning before work, sometimes on a break, rarely at night, but by and large I get it done. So disciplining myself to make it the first part of my day, and more urgent than my notifications awaiting me, was a challenge. For some reason it is easy to roll over in bed with our phones illuminate our faces, yet difficult to wake up with God’s Word illuminating our minds and hearts.

Every day looked different, bringing its own set of circumstances, so it was important to learn adaptability while sticking to the goal of Word first, Facebook second. One day my wife and I got up to go to the gym at 6AM. Instead of bringing my usual theology book to read as I bike, I brought a Bible. One day I had an early staff meeting before 8AM, so I listened to it on my commute. Out of all three I had the most success with this one.

The best part of doing this was that I used much of this time to help myself get back into memorizing Scripture. I have been memorizing the book of Philippians for about six months on and off, so this was a huge help in recalibrating that. I made great strides here, and I’m happy about it, far more happy than the “likes” or “retweets” i got all week.  The slow and patient work of memorization is often discouraged by our fast-paced, maxed-out mindset, so I found quiet early mornings especially helpful.

You don’t have to read your Bible before you do anything else. But I want to create a thirst in me that wants to. It begins with steps such as this. I hope to keep disciplining myself to do this daily.

2. Turn Off Your Mobile Distractions (Notifications)

This was not quite what I expected. The first couple of days, I put my iPhone in “Do Not Disturb” mode and turned my iMessage notifications off of my laptop. It sort of worked, but the notifications were still there. I would still find pop-ups on my lock screen and had to turn sounds and vibration off for various alerts. Yet, I think I did a lot better with managing my emails and apps.

My messages were still the weakest part of this for me. I got distracted on occasion by text messages. Group message texts, texts from my spouse, random messages here and there. I put certain threads in Do Not Disturb, which helped, but I would be even less distracted if I had turned all red buttons and banners off as well.

As I met with people this week, I felt much more engaged with them as I decidedly left my phone in my pocket on silent. There was an occasional time check here and there (which isn’t necessary), but having my lock-screen notices turned off helped me not put my mind elsewhere as someone across the table is talking. There were a couple of times that I caught myself with other people on my phone, but these weren’t as much “getting distracted” as much as me being an introvert. There is certainly work to do, but I felt more productive and less frazzled with this reduction in distractions.

3. Begin a Varying Pattern of Total Disconnection

I was not as disciplined with the “one hour a day” as intended. However, I think because this topic has been so heavy on my mind all week, it was natural for me to go an hour here or a couple hours there without feeling the impulse and itch to check my devices. Making the conscious decision to say, “I don’t need my phone to go here, or to do this,” is refreshing. Untethering ourselves is so valuable.

The “one day a week” piece was likely the most difficult part of the entire challenge. We are creatures that find it unorthodox to throw our phones in a drawer to go untouched for the day. We blame the “what if’s,” but really we just can’t bear the thought of being disengaged with technology. I didn’t deliver on this particular part. There wasn’t a day this week that I escaped for a full 24 hours. I wish I would have had more resolve and tried harder. With that said, as I survey how the whole week went and how I spent one hour a day disconnected, I think I felt much less bogged down than normal. I felt more connected to my wife, my coworkers, and my family and friends, and less connected to my apps. That’s a win.

What Now?

Here’s the main thing I hope we walk away with in light of this conversation we’ve had this month. We all have work to do in this area. Technology is a wonderful thing, a thing we should strive to use well! But technology can never replace our need for physical, relational connectedness with people. Artificial intelligence will always be artificial, an imitation of what God’s true design is.

Remember Sherry Turkle from Part 1? She wraps up her talk with something profound:

“We don’t have the time to talk to one another about the things that really matter. Change that. Most important: We all really need to listen to each other, including to the boring bits. Because it’s when we stumble or hesitate or lose our words that we reveal ourselves to each other. Technology is making a bid to redefine human connection, how we care for each other, how we care for ourselves, but it’s also giving us the opportunity to affirm our values and our direction. I’m optimistic that we have everything we need to start. We have each other. And we have the greatest chance of success if we recognize our vulnerability.”

I don’t know Turkle’s relationship with God, but the Christian and Church overtones are compelling. This is the gospel at work: to know our limitations, to know Jesus’s satisfactions, and to love others in and with those. What an opportunity we Christians have to make these words come alive for the sake of the gospel in our communities, in our homes, and in our world.


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