Between Luddism and addiction

Last night I dreamed I had a smart phone and I was eating it.

Weird, I know. I’ll chalk it up to being in the process of writing this blog post. Because I had a moment this past week that shocked me, even though it was only a visceral confirmation of things I already knew.

Most of you know I don’t use a smart phone. It’s a choice I’ve made based partly because I’m cheap, but more so on observing how devices are used all around me and recognizing that I don’t want to live like that.

To be clear, when I’m at home, I’m as addicted to “just checking” fill-in-the-blank as anyone else. I’m like those dogs in the movie “Up”, going “Squirrel!”

Beta! Gamma! Mayhaps you desire to ... Squirrel!

I’ll sit there “working,” but actually fighting the compulsion to check Facebook or Instagram or email because that is easier than figuring out whatever plot or character or text phrasing problem is plaguing me.

But if I leave home, I can truly be offline. It’s incredibly restful.

However, I do own an iPad Pro that we bought for playing music. I don’t mean Apple music. I mean notes on a page, from which I play flute, sing, or conduct (that last if I can ever get my act together and get the scores loaded on it). This past week I was at NPM (the pastoral music convention), playing a concert, three showcases, and a breakout session and leading another breakout session, and I was able to go paperless. Woohoo!

The iPad also served as my camera and library for our family trip to Disney World. So for the ten days I was at Disney and the five at convention, my iPad Pro was in my backpack and connected to wifi at all times. It was, in fact, in front of my face most of the convention.

I did a lot of “checking.” A lot.

And one morning, as I was sitting with the device on my lap in a plenum talk that I was really interested in, I became aware that I was having trouble concentrating because I felt this deep, irresistible compulsion to unlock the iPad and “just check” something. Facebook, email, Insta… didn’t matter. SOMETHING.

It was a pretty stark moment of clarity. I detest typing on a flat screen, so I certainly wasn’t holding the device so I could take notes. I had no interest in taking a picture. I had just checked Facebook before she started talking, and to check again would distract me from the present moment–which was a moment I wanted to be fully immersed in.

Nope, it was nothing more complicated than the fact that the thing was sitting there on my lap in all its addictive glory, whining for my attention.

I put it on the floor, and it was astonishing how instantly my focus shifted, my heart and mind returning to the present instead of the meta-world. The rest of the week I left it in the backpack when I was in sessions, which was better still.

This experience reiterated why I run this complicated and difficult path between Luddism and caving to societal pressure. Life is definitely more complicated without a smart phone. More and more things can’t be done at all without one. Travel nearly depends on it now.

I check my assumptions all the time, but I keep returning to this truth: we need stillness and emptiness in our lives, and yet the structure of modern life is to fill every second with stimuli. Precious few of us are equipped with the emotional stamina to give ourselves emptiness and stillness when we have distraction at our fingertips at every moment. I am not one of them.

I have spent my entire adult life learning to safeguard my spiritual & emotional health through stillness and the ability to disconnect. To be unavailable. And that morning, it was crystal clear to me how precarious my hold on those tools really is.