I was downloading ringtones to my new iPhone. My dad was texting parishioners (he’s a Pastor) and making phone calls to take care of some things for church that evening. My SO was taking calls because her mother is in the hospital. All of this was going on while we were trying to spend time together as a family.
It was a sunny, but chilly Sunday afternoon yesterday. My SO and I had decided to cook a substantial lunch for my parents as a thank you for all they do for us. It was also to give them a chance to rest after the craziness of their lives. We ate a delicious lunch and then gathered at the kitchen table for one of our favorite pastimes – playing Canasta.
But because of technology and cellphones, most of us were distracted. At one point, my mom asked – “Are we going to play cards? All of you are on the phone!” It’s true. We’re all like this at one point or another. We all spend time texting, calling, taking pictures, web surfing….yet, how much are we missing in our lives because our attention is distracted and focused elsewhere? It was supposed to be a time of enjoying family and creating memories, but the most memorable moment is my mom sarcastically remarking about all of us playing with our phones. What does that say?
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. In fact, a large part of my work and personal life involves using technology. From organizing my work-life online, to communicating with friends and family on social networks, I can’t imagine life without it. However, with all the advances in technology to help us communicate faster, cheaper and clearer, many people are more lonely and isolated than ever before. I know some people who, every time their phone buzzes, can’t resist it and have to answer the text, phone call, Facebook notification, email, you name it. It’s like an addiction. I’m guilty as charged, too.
Technology has made our lives easier, helped us be more effective in our work and allowed us to connect with friends, family and colleagues across the world. However, often with rapid change, there is a cost. And far too often, relationships are suffering because of the effects of technology and how it dominates our world. Whatever your view on technology, the simple facts are, we simply can’t avoid it. It’s embedded into every part of our day, from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep at night. Unless you live on a remote island talking to a volleyball staked in the sand like Tom Hanks in Castaway, we actually need technology to go about our day-to-day living.
The key here is to find a balance of connection online AND connection offline. I think technology is great to facilitate connection, but then take it into the real world, where something of substance can be developed. While you may have 3000 Facebook friends, how many of them could you truly lean on in a time of crisis? The dilemma is that while you may have many surface-level relationships with technology, you could be missing a couple of key people in your life that can really make a difference to you and your well-being.
Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, points out how she used drugs and alcohol to escape being present with herself and her emotions of a difficult childhood and the death of her father. We use technology in the same way. Technology can promote superficial and shallow relationships. It was only a number of decades ago that the only way you could connect with a friend was by picking up a phone or walking around to their house for a cup of tea and a chat. People connected in a real way; they connected in the flesh and were present with each other. You learned how to ask for help, reached out for support and gave a helping hand to your fellow neighbor.
As writers and human beings, we have to be careful with technology. We can lose the ability to ‘chew things over.’ What I mean is developing the ability to reflect on yourself and others and our lives. We lose the inspiration for our writing.
We live in a time of unparalleled busyness. Technology allow us to be instantly connected and tuned-in at all times to others. With the emergence of smartphones, it now means we are almost never away from our work email, friends updates, text messages and notifications of the location of family.
All this busyness has an impact on the ‘I’ and the ‘we’ of our relationships. You maybe working harder than you ever have, you’re more connected to work, friends and family than you thought was possible, but the real question is, how connected are you to yourself and your partner and family?
When was the last time you had a meal together with no distractions? A night you didn’t play on your iPhone or read your iPad in bed? Or a day without technology for that matter? No phones, sms, iPad, emails, DVDs, TV or computers? If that sounds like a strange idea, you’re not alone. Being connected to technology at all hours of the day has become the modern-day disease.
Try having a technology-free day or (gasp!) weekend. See what it’s like to not be connected to your friends, or checking your email 30 times a day. Notice what else is in your life when you take technology away. You might be surprised by what you discover.