June 13, 2013
Saturday mornings my daughter goes to gymnastics. While she bounces around like a maniac, I, and countless other parents sit and wait in a cramped viewing room for our preschoolers to burn through some energy for the day.
Most of us find a wall or a rare seat and pull out our iDevices. We stare at our screens, thumbing through sports news, playing games, or on the odd occasion, work on something productive. Very few of us actually watch what our kids are doing.
We all come prepared—carrying iPhones, iPads, laptops, and more—to avoid the potential of having to engage with each other or with the lesson. We are all in a room together and completely dismissive of that fact.
Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat.
I keep an ever-growing list of articles cached on Instapaper so that in moments just like these, I can thumb through and find something that I felt clearly deserved my attention at some point and actually read through it, ultimately ignoring the world around me.
One of these articles was I'm still here: back online after a year without the internet by Paul Miller. Last Saturday I chose to read it.
A few paragraphs in I read through this sentence: "Without the retreat of a smartphone, I was forced to come out of my shell in difficult social situations". Retreating to my phone is exactly what I was doing, reading this article in a room full of people; not because the social situation was tough, but because nobody seemed to care enough to engage. Maybe it was too early in our collective coffee cycles to try, or maybe staring at our screens was simply an easier way to pass the time.
I began to wonder if I could put my phone down for a year and disconnect. Is Twitter really that important to me? Do I need Facebook in my life? I've lived without it for years and I'm often questioning its significance in my day-to-day routine.
I try to put the phone away at the dinner table, but it is just out of reach, calling me with its beeps and buzzes every time something in my virtual world occurs; it only takes a second to ease that anxious feeling that I might be missing something important online.
"It's reprogramming our relationships, our emotions, and our sensitivity," said one of the rabbis at the rally. It destroys our patience. It turns kids into "click vegetables."
I know I can turn off the Internet. I go camping every summer and leave the phone in the glove compartment of my car. I only check it a couple times a day at most, and i've even managed to neglect it for days (because there was no signal anyway).
That proves I don't need the Internet for my personal life. I can get away without it. I can communicate via phone or snail mail, or even in person, if I have to.
I know I can disconnect, but do I want to? As much as I hate to admit it, it is nice to see what old friends are doing on Facebook. Admittedly, if I didn't have Facebook, I might not think about those people much, if ever, but it still gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to know that my childhood friends are growing up too (getting married, having kids, receiving promotions, buying a new home).
So much ink has been spilled deriding the false concept of a "Facebook friend," but I can tell you that a "Facebook friend" is better than nothing.
I have developed new friendships and relationships with my community through Twitter that may have never occurred without it. I can see the a benefit from the daily use of Twitter.
It seems clear that I want to keep social media in my life. It affords me connections with the world that I may not have otherwise. I also recognize that having access to these connections from everywhere I go, may be a bit too much connectivity. Do I really need to be able to check my Tweets from the bathroom? I'm certainly not going to update my status from there or check-in on foursquare!
The problem isn't about the Internet and what it provides, it's that we've become so damned used to checking in online, that we don't know how not to.
I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.
I love the Internet and what it holds on so many levels. I can step back and appreciate the benefits it affords me, but I need to strike a better balance between my two worlds. I don't need to quit the Internet cold turkey like Paul Miller did for a year, but I do need to take more breaks. I need to find balance.
Last year I turned off the alerts for new email because my pavlovian instinct to scramble for my phone with every ding and chirp left me distracted from the events unfolding in front of me, and more often than not, I would just be faced with another junk message to delete. This has helped tip the scales, but more effort is needed before I can say that I have reached Internet zen.
When I pick up my phone to check Twitter in the middle of the day I feel a pang of guilt for disengaging from my current surroundings, but I balance it out with the belief that if I don't check my timeline now, it will be overrun with tweets by day's end and I may never get through them all.
So what? Are those tweets really that important? And if they are, have I missed the news forever? Or will someone else retweet it tomorrow? Or will I read about it on a blog, or even hear about it on the news?
Recognizing the need for balance is one thing, but making it work is another problem altogether. I have been battling for this sense of zen for months, and slowly I am starting to find a balance.
I have considered drastic measures like removing the data plan from my phone, but then I remind myself about the number of times it has saved my butt while away from a computer. I counter that argument with how I managed to do just fine five years ago before I had such a luxury, but end up wondering if I only managed survival due to the fact that everyone else was just in the same boat without the same technological aides.
Balancing life with the Internet won't come easy. Let's face it, this technology is relatively brand new, and working it into our lives will take time. I don't have all the answers, but when I do, I'll be rich (take that in what ever way you want to).