I am no technophobe. No Luddite, I gladly use by iPhone, my laptop, my car, my table saw, my stereo, my furnace, my dishwasher, and many other tools and devices. But our technology has become more and more invasive and more and more integrated into our daily lives. And as a result, we need to establish some boundaries and guidelines for using our tech so that it doesn’t damage us.
This is one of the things we need to acknowledge up front: technology is neither good nor evil; it is good and evil.
The hammer I use to build a house is also the hammer I use to smash my thumb or break your window. Similarly, the smartphone I use to receive a text of my nephew’s cute baby daughter is the same device some middle school boy is using to sext an inappropiate image to a classmate.
So, I’m slowly coming up with boundaries and guidelines for myself and my family to protect us from our technology. We want to use it constructively and that means using it deliberately and within reasonable limits.
Now, most of our tech already has guidelines. No drinking and driving a motor vehicle, for instance. We’ve come up with a long list of car-related boundaries and guidelines after many years of using them. But it’s newer technologies that require our attention right now and especially our phones which have quickly become closer than any family member, almost extensions of our personalities. The rapidity with which we’ve made these deep-seated connections alone is causes for concern.
So, here are some basic guidelines I’m in the process of adopting.
No phone in the bathroom. Just do your business and be done. The bathroom is not a man cave. Using the phone in the bathroom turns it into a germ factory. And that’s just gross.
No using phones during meals. Something died so I can eat it; so whether I’m eating animal or vegetable, I want to give it some respect by paying attention to it. Besides, food tastes better when we give it our full attention. Also, when we focus on it, we eat less of it, gaining less weight in the long run.
No tech in bed. No phones. No TV. No computer. No tablet. It’s bad for sleep. It’s bad for intimacy. Enough said.
Take tech time outs. If I can’t do without it, I’m an addict. Really. I need whole days off. I need tech Sabbaths. I need tech naps during the day. And instead of lingering over my phone at the end of the day, I need to simply turn out the light and get a full night’s sleep.
Don’t look at the phone during a conversation. That buzz in my pocket is probably just a silly cat video being posted to Facebook. It can wait. I’m talking with a real live human being. I will bask in the glory of human relations. And if someone is calling or texting me, I’ll let it go till later. I’m not God and shouldn’t be as accessible as God. Only God should be a prayer away.
Leave space for silence. Music, audiobooks, podcasts, and such are all great in their place. But I need to leave silent space for thought, for prayer, for paying attention to the world around me. It’s scary how much thought and prayer have been replaced by noise. I need to push back against that.
Practice not knowing. Google is amazing. Being able to ask almost any question and have an answer within seconds is intoxicating. But there was a time when all the answers weren’t at our fingertips and we had to be OK with that. It taught us to live with unknowns. It trained us to live in a world where the most important questions don’t have quick or simple answers. I need to live in that world again.
Go slow. Yep. My car is tech, too. I need to consider a walk or a bike ride instead of defaulting to the car. I’ll see the world more clearly. I’ll be in better shape. And I won’t be so rushed and stressed out. Speed kills.
Play old school games. Video games have become graphically amazing. And there are unique forms of communication that can take place during them. But they’re too fast and lead to less human interaction and laughter than a simple card or board game. Video gaming has its place, but it needs to be a small place, and I mustn’t let it squeeze out the old fashioned board game night.
Handwrite good cards and letters. It used to be an art form, but we’ve quickly lost it. The problem with email and texting and social media is that the first two are too functional, focused on getting information or getting people to do stuff, and the second decends into the trivial far too easily. I need to recover the labor and intentionality of writing out full thoughts while keeping to the economy of words that hand writing leads to.