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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.