Technology (September 2010)

You are checking emails on your phone in a spare five moments (or while waiting in line/ at a stoplight) and as you’re reading email you receive a phone call. You answer the call and less than a minute into the call you receive a text message or two and an alert from Facebook. Does this sound familiar? It sounds all too familiar to me and I don’t even consider myself to be a tech savvy person. 

There is no doubt that we are a hyper-connected society and I have a hard time believing anyone who says that they are not engaged with this lifestyle to some extent.  (With the exception of my great-uncle who actually does not have an answering machine and receives any emails through my father). How are we functioning in a society where almost anyone can reach us through a variety of means at any time? How do we filter the important messages (email or otherwise) from the junk mail? How has it fundamentally changed the nature of social interactions that we are able to connect rapidly and consistently with people face-to-face and through technology? 

I recently had the chance to spend a full week at Pingree Park near Fort Collins, CO at Colorado University’s Alumni Family Camp. One of the great things about Pingree Park is that it does not have cell reception. It was amazing to have so many families with parents who would typically be checking work calls or emails, as well as teenagers who might be calling friends at home, but were instead fully engaged with family and new friends. Everyone was, in a sense, forced to spent quality time together. As one father put it, “I would pay more money these days to be somewhere without technology and really have time off to spend with my family”.

There are obvious and amazing advantages to our connectivity. Parents can be in closer touch with children. People who move around or spend much of their year traveling can maintain one stable phone number. We can get important emails any time of day or look up directions when we get lost. 

      All this leads me to wonder, what are we sacrificing in the meantime? 

I know I feel frustrated when everyone is out to dinner and one or more people are using their phones just to check email or text friends (even though at times I’m the culprit!). I was recently with a toddler who simply reached out his hand and took my phone and set it on the ground to indicate that it was time to play with him, not to be looking up a phone number for his mom. Sometimes I feel like doing the same thing to friend’s or family’s phones. 

As an iPhone user who has my 3 email accounts, 2 calendars, multiple To Do lists, as well as friend, family, and coworker phone numbers stored on this tiny phone/computer I find myself in the situation where the phone is a necessary evil. If the phone is one of your “necessary evils” I ask you to reconsider what it is like to be totally present with the people you are with instead of trying to plan, text, and enjoy dinner with friends all at once. If it feels too intimidating (or simply unrealistic) to completely abandon your phone here are a few suggestions for starting simple:

- The basics are safety (not talking on the phone or texting while driving) & courtesy (no talking while checking out at meals, grocery stores, etc.).

Turn your phone to silent for exercise, meditation, yoga, or meal time. 

When you meet with a friend for coffee, go somewhere without internet so that you are surrounded by other people talking or reading instead of working online. (I suggest Spruce Confection on Pearl. They don’t have internet and are conveniently across the street from me office!)

Use your phone consciously and plan out time for returning calls, reading emails, and checking twitter.

Give yourself a home retreat time where you turn off your phone even if only for a few hours. 

Try disconnecting. Can you learn something about what drives you to stay so connected? Are those calls, texts, or tweets that you tell yourself are essential really as essential as you thought? Or can you pull yourself away, shut the technology down, and truly enjoy being in this place, at this time, with these people.