Last week I made a change. After nearly 15 years of using a Mac as my primary everyday computer, I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I’m calling it a “trial separation” since I’m still not 100% sure it’s the right move for me, but after a lot of thought and research I felt like the time was right. Enough friends commented to my announcement on Instagram and said, “Let me know how it goes. I’m thinking of doing the same thing.” that I thought it would be helpful to share my experience. Read more
If you’re like me you’ve read enough articles about the detrimental effects of screen time on kids to give you a sufficient amount of guilt and anxiety to last a lifetime. No fear, this is not one of those articles. Read more
At the end of last year I had an experience that led me to begin 2012 by unplugging from some of the technology that saturates my life (read about that decision here). I decided (arbitrarily) to unplug for a week and then evaluate my experience. That week ended yesterday so I’m still processing my reflections from that time, but here are some initial thoughts as I re-connect to my digital world.
- Unplugging was more difficult than I expected.
It was more difficult than I expected to decide where I would draw the line around “unplugging.” I decided to try and unplug within the context of a normal week of life and work, and I quickly learned that it was impossible to do my work as a pastor and completely disconnect. I spent hours last week on my computer answering emails, researching for and writing my message for last Sunday at New Denver Church, answering phone calls and responding to text messages. Since I couldn’t fully disconnect, I just decided to eliminate the non-essentials. I didn’t interact with any social media (specifically for me no Facebook or Twitter), no games (not on my iPhone, iPad, or most temptingly, my new XBox 360), no web surfing, no blog reading, and I tried to eliminate television unless watching something with someone in my family. Short of leaving my everyday life and work to pursue a completely disconnected experience (which I would like to do at some point) I think this was about the best I could do at unplugging.
- Unplugging was easier than I expected.
The things I gave up I didn’t really miss as much as I thought I would. This was encouraging to me. You never really know how strong a hold things or experiences have on you until you try to give them up. In part, this is the great benefit of practicing the discipline of fasting. We let go of good and permissible things that God has given for our enjoyment as a way of keeping ourselves from making lesser things into more ultimate things. I recognize the power that technology has to draw my attention and affection, and I think I will probably always live somewhere on the continuum between “healthy and appropriate use” and “unhealthy and inappropriate abuse.” It’s good to find myself somewhere on the positive side of that continuum.
- Social media is mostly a one-sided conversation for me.
During my hiatus from social media, I was curious to see what, if anything, I missed from the experience. I was surprised that what I missed more than anything was the feeling of sharing my thoughts, observations and experiences to “someone.” As an extrovert I realize that often my thoughts aren’t even real for me until I say them out loud. Social media is a way to do that. So while I guess I hope people will read and interact with what I say, the interaction was not what I missed most. What I missed most was having a way to express myself and feel heard, whether someone actually reads what I say or not.
- My family appreciated the effort.
One of the main reasons I wanted to disconnect from part of my digital life was that I have seen how it can affect my focus and attention on the people in my embodied life. I’m not sure those words (digital vs embodied) are the best way to describe the experience of my life, but I prefer that paradigm better than others (e.g. virtual vs. real). The point is that as much as I try to multi-task or to have my attention focused into my digital and my embodied world, I don’t do it well. It has often created frustration for Kate (and to a lesser degree my kids) when my focus is into my digital world (staring at my phone, computer, iPad, etc) instead of on them. Kate mentioned on a couple occasions how she appreciated this exercise.
- Distractions are found in all forms of “technology.”
One interesting discovery was that even if I take away my technological distractions (phone, computer, television) there are lower forms of technology that I still used to distract myself. For example, I took my son Andrew to lunch last week, and I took a magazine with me. While no one would probably refer to a magazine as a piece of “technology” it served as a distraction for me. I could have chosen to simply sit and watch Andrew play or to just sit and think. Instead I chose to sit and read. This disconnected me from my embodied world and connected me to a print world. So the dangers of distraction aren’t limited to shiny tech gadgets.
There’s more than I could say about the experience, but I’ll close by saying that I found this to be a very worthwhile exercise. So I’ll close with a question for you as you read this. Is there anything good but lesser thing in your life that you may be making an ultimate thing? Maybe it’s time to take a break to find out what you might learn by paying more attention to your embodied world.
** Image from Flickr user kozumel, used under Creative Commons license.
The day after Christmas I made a dreadful decision. I agreed to take my kids to a mall here in Denver so that they could go to the Lego store to buy something with the money that they got for Christmas from relatives. Big mistake. As I was driving the fifteen minutes it takes to get from my house to the mall, I reached down to grab my iPhone from my pocket for some tunes for the ride, and it wasn’t there. After double checking my jacket pockets, it was confirmed that I had forgotten my phone at home. I was already about ten minutes from home, and the thought crossed my mind to turn around and go get my phone. But I decided that was silly. I would be spending the day unplugged.
When we got to the mall my worst fears were realized. It was a complete madhouse. I have never seen that many people at a mall in my life. Seriously. Every road was jammed. Every parking spot was full. Every parking-lot aisle was backed up three to four cars deep as people were “trolling” for parking spots. I reached for my phone to call the store where we were heading to find out if they even had the item we came after. Oh yeah, no phone today.
After circling the parking lot without success for thirty minutes I heard the words from our back seat that every parent dreads in situations like this: “Daddy, I have to go potty.” It was Andrew, my four-year-old. “Okay, just hold it for a few minutes. Daddy will get a parking spot soon.” Fifteen minutes later Andrew was crying, and we still hadn’t found a parking place. I made a split-second decision. Passing the main entrance to the mall (in bumper-to-bumper traffic) I opened the door and instructed my seven-year-old son, Ethan, to take his brother inside to the bathroom and told him exactly where to wait for me inside. I headed straight for the valet parking line. At this point seven dollars seemed like a small price to pay to retrieve my two boys who were somewhere in the middle of the mall madness. As I dropped off my car, I began praying that the boys made it to the bathroom okay, that they weren’t scared, and that they’d be right where I told them to be. I was speed walking to where I told Ethan to meet me, and as I walked my hand slipped to my pocket. Oh yeah, no phone today. I continued to pray. I opened the door to the mall and immediately saw my boys, exactly where I told them to wait. I prayed again, thanking God for this small but oh-so-important answered prayer.
The mall was as insane inside as it was outside. Every seat in the food court was full, and people huddled in corners to eat. Madness, total madness. We made it to our destination, the Lego store, to find that, sure enough, they did not have the one thing we came after. After finding a suitable substitute (what four-year old is willing to wait?) we headed out. I had promised the boys lunch at Chick-Fil-A, but the food court was still packed so I decided we’d just head to a different location as far away from this mall as we could get. As we walked out through the food court, I reached down to snap a pic with Instagram and tweet it. Oh yeah, no phone today.
We finally made it out of the mall parking lot (another prayer of thanks was offered) and headed to Chick-Fil-A. We finished lunch, and the boys headed to the play area. This is a familiar ritual for me with my boys – fast food lunch followed by play time for them and some time to read, browse the web, and surf social networks for me. I reached for my pocket. Oh yeah, no phone today. For the first time in a while, I had a chance to just sit. And to think.
As I thought about my day, I noticed that more than my phone was missing from the day. A lot of my usual anxiousness and frustration was gone. I was more patient with my boys than I usually am. Given the unusually stressful nature of my day that was surprising. As I thought about it, I thanked God for that extra measure of grace, but I also began to wonder what else was different. I realized that I was fully present in every moment of that day without any distractions or diversions.
As a person who has spent much of his life working with technology (both as a vocation and an avocation), I spend a lot of time “plugged in.” But as a pastor, I’ve also thought a lot about how technology influences us. I am grateful in this regard to a pastor from Michigan named Shane Hipps. Shane wrote a great book a few years back that I highly recommend entitled Flickering Pixels which is an excellent exploration of the unintended consequences of media and technology. If reading a book on the topic seems too large a task and you’d prefer something shorter (which is true for most of us…technology, the internet specifically, did that to us) there’s a great article on Shane’s blog that should get you thinking.
I love technology, but I realize that using it as frequently as I do has unintended consequences. The best way that I’ve found to combat these consequences is to unplug – to fast from technology. It’s been a while since I’ve done this, and my experience at the mall made me realize it’s time to do it again. So I’m going to spend the first week of 2012 “unplugged.” No Twitter. No Facebook. No web surfing. No non-work-related email. I’ll probably still carry my phone in order to be available in my role as a pastor, but I intend to use it as little as possible. I want to create some silence and thought margin, some room to listen.
I’ll be back in a week – hopefully with more to say than if I hadn’t taken this break.
I’m a geek – have been most of my life (read my story here at my other site if you’re curious how I became a geek). I don’t even try to deny that. I’m just fascinated by technology (computers in particular) and am always reading about cool new gadgets, programs, web sites, and the like. It seems like people are often coming to me and saying, “Hey have you seen this site?” or “What do you know about [insert techie gadget here] that’s supposed to be coming out soon?” So as a part of making this the place I process out loud and share things with others, it just seemed right to begin sharing some of the things that are capturing my attention here. So in no particular order, here’s the first installment of Tech Notes – news and notes of all things geek in my world:
- Pinterest.com – I’m pretty late to the party on this one it seems, but I blame the fact that I’m a guy. This new invitation-only social networking site (let me know if you want an invitation) where you can “pin” things from the web you find interesting seems to have a pretty heavily female audience to date. The whole idea is that you find something you find interesting on the web (a recipe, arts and crafts ideas, decorating ideas, etc) and you “pin it” on your page. I’m still getting the hang of it, but it seems to have a lot of momentum. Which probably means Google or Facebook will buy it soon. 🙂 Kudos to my buddy Dan Snyder for this one.
- Pepperplate.com – My friend Jason Malec shared this one with me. It’s a website where you can add recipes (by clipping them from websites like foodnetwork.com or by adding your own recipes manually), create a menu plan for the week, and it will then generate a shopping list for you. This solves the problem of getting to the end of the day and saying, “What should we have for dinner?” and then having to figure out what you need, go to the store, and buy it. With a little planning Pepperplate helps you avoid that ordeal. One of the things I love is when technology integrates well – particularly between computers and mobile devices. This is where Pepperplate is strong. You add your recipes, decide when you want to make them, and it will generate a shopping list for you that you can then access through your (free) Pepperplate iPhone app. I haven’t really put this one into practice yet (I’m still collecting recipes to use) but am excited about the possibilities.
- Klout.com – Ever since I read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell years ago, I’ve been fascinated by how people influence one another. Why do trends start? Why do some bands get popular and others don’t even get noticed? Behind all the decisions we make is a network of people who influence us, people who connect us, and people who persuade us. Social networking makes it possible to observe and analyze these trends and see who influences whom. That’s where Klout.com comes in. Just connect Klout to your social network and it will give you a score of your influence – analyzing all your social network connections and who you motivate to action (to click on a link, to retweet a post on Twitter, to like something on Facebook, etc). Interesting stuff.