That Moment When I Realize the Problem is Me

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Photo by Jangra Works, via Flickr

This might come as a shock to many people. (Brace yourselves, sisters!) Occasionally…very occasionally…I do fleetingly think, “Gee, if I had a smart phone right now I could…”

I always decide that for me, the benefit would be far outweighed by the nuisance, the expectation of being always available. But I’ve realized in the past few days that my reasoning is faulty. I’m absolutely right to stay disconnected, but the real issue in having a smart phone wouldn’t be the technology. It would be me.

It seemed like for a week, I kept hearing stories about people who had found their family relationships strained—in some cases broken—by addiction to screen time. Then I read a striking reflection, provocatively titled “I used to be human,” by Andrew Sullivan, who embraced life online until he realized his physical health was failing and so was his ability to have meaningful relationships. Yesterday, I heard him on NPR’s program Here and Now (a great interview, btw).

And when Christian and I talked these things over, we found ourselves stumped by the lack of self-regulation that seems ubiquitous to modern life. I scolded him for how often he feels compelled to check his work email day, night, morning, weekends. And he pointed out how much time I spend on the computer.

That was when I realized that I am not immune. I, too, am driven by a need for distraction. If I get stuck while I’m working, I’ll click over to email, and when there’s nothing there, I’ll hop on Facebook or (less frequently) Twitter. (There’s always something to distract me there.)

I value going out to the Pinnacles or Gans Creek to write because it takes me completely off the grid. It’s just me and my muse and the Spirit. I go out there, first, to be still and meditate, but despite devoting half my nature time to stillness and not doing, I generally get more writing done than I would if I stayed home.

backyard-retreat

I haven’t been going out much lately. We invested in a set of patio furniture that has made my back yard like a retreat—at least, when the wind is out of the north, as it has been the past week or so, and I can’t hear the interstate roaring. But there’s wireless down there, and any time I ran into a speed bump in my manuscript, my brain went, “SQUIRREL!” and I ran off to check Facebook.

Late last week, I decided to safeguard my writing time by unplugging the wireless router before I went downstairs to write. See, theoretically you could just turn off the wireless on the computer (or turn off the phone). But I’ve tried that. When all it takes is a flip of the switch to reconnect, there’s not a whole lot standing between me and distraction. It’s been illuminating to see how often I’ve said to myself, “Oh, I’ll just go look up…oh, wait.”

I’ve accomplished a ton in the past week.

Then, early this week, I imposed a Facebook cap on myself. I’m now only allowed to get on Facebook three times a day. (Only! There’s your first clue, Sherlock.)

The sense of withdrawal engendered by all this clarified for me that the only way I can do everything I do is by staying disconnected, by opting into the digital realm on my terms instead of being in by default and having to consciously opt out. I might be able to control myself, because self-discipline and self-regulation are key to my world view. But I would spend so much mental bandwidth policing myself, I would be taking away from the energy required to do the things that are more important to me.

So for me, not having a smart phone, not texting, not doing All The Things Everybody Else Does, are what allow me to be the woman I want to be. But I’m glad that now I recognize the problem isn’t the technology—it’s me.

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On the Proper Etiquette of Text Messages

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Photo by DaveLawley, via Flickr

I am the weirdo in the room who doesn’t use a mobile phone. The sound quality is reason enough—I don’t like having to work so hard to understand what people say. And I find it cumbersome to have to punch in every letter—plus extra for capitals and punctuation—one-fingered.

I am not a complete Luddite. I blog (obviously). I use Facebook. I shop on iTunes and Amazon and all my files are online. I know how to use a smart phone–my husband has one, and I certainly recognize the value of the technology. I just don’t want one. I have a prepaid “dumb” phone whose number I don’t give out unless my kids are in your care. It’s a conscious choice to approach life from a different perspective, where the default is, “If I’m away from home, it’s for a reason; you can wait to talk to me later, because right now I’m focused on living. And I can wait to talk to you later, for the same reason.”

What I’m trying to avoid. Image by d26b73, via Flickr

I want to be able to go out to the Pinnacles and be totally off the grid, away from the possibility of online distraction, so that I can focus my mental and spiritual energy on simply being. And I don’t want to become one of those people who bury themselves in their phones instead of engaging with the world.

So I have a unique—dare I say objective?—perspective on the way this technology is used: familiar, but on the outside. And because the smart phone in our house is primarily a work phone, I feel I have a particularly good grasp on the way people outside a work setting USE THEM WRONG.

I therefore present:

Kate’s Rules For Proper Use Of Text Messaging

1. If it’s after 9:30 p.m.: DO NOT TEXT. Not unless you know for sure that everyone you’re sending to is a night owl. Morning people know better than to call/text people before a certain hour. Night owls need to show the same courtesy. Just because you are allowed to turn your phone off when you go to bed doesn’t mean everyone is. Sometimes it’s, y’know, a work phone. The kind where you have to be available if the campus police have an incident at one in the morning.

2. If it’s longer than two short sentences: DO NOT TEXT. That is an email, not a text message.

3. If you don’t need an answer this instant, DO NOT TEXT. Send an email. A text message compels people to answer right now, even if they’re in the middle of something more important. They can’t ignore it, because it will keep beeping at them until they respond. And if they choose to open the message and not respond immediately, they’re likely to forget to respond at all. An email, on the other hand, would be in their inbox unread until it’s a good time to reply. See how much more courteous that is?

4. If you’re trying to work out meeting up with someone, DO NOT TEXT. Put the phone to your ear and have a conversation. With, you know, words coming out of your mouth. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy to go back and forth 10 times by text when a phone conversation will work out things so much more efficiently.

Lesson concluded. Any questions?