Submitted by David Hancock, Lead Pastor at Christ Fellowship Preston
I have this ever-growing sense that something is slipping away. No, my mind isn’t going – so far as I can tell – but something is changing. It is hard to put my finger on it. My mind seems to work like an ADD laboratory rat running a frenetic pace through a maze. I’ve had the intuition that someone or something has been tinkering with my soul, remapping the circuitry of brain synapses, and at brief moments I awake and wonder, “What is happening? My soul feels empty? My life feels out of control? I used to read for great pleasure, but now I would rather just skim over online sound bites for my depth. I used to spend time with God, but now my concentration drifts as I hear Facebook, texts, and emails whispering… Please open me. I used to be more engaged with my family and friends, but now I feel like I have replaced them with my favorite apps. How did I get to this place? Have you experienced this? Do you know this feeling?
We could point to many ills of society and scapegoat anyone of them as the contributor to our diluted souls. The reality is that there are a number of ingredients in this bowl of stew, but one ingredient dominants the flavor. Let’s be honest, as adults and parents, we are addicted to our electronic gadgets — and our children follow our example. Nicholas Carr’s landmark book, “The Shallows – What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains,” said “We may be wary of what our devices are doing to us, but we’re using them more than ever… we are welcoming the frenziedness into our souls. It is not only the content of our thoughts that are radically altered by phones and computers, but the structure of our brains — our ability to have certain kinds of thoughts and experiences.”
I suggest we stand to lose not only brainpower as we turn over our thinking to smartphones, iPads and computers, but more importantly we may be losing our souls.
I’m not a technology basher. I love technology. I love my smartphone, my iPad, my Mac and all those wonderful apps. But I love them when they serve a purpose, help me complete a project, provide efficiency of time, and provide freedom to enjoy life. I must confess though, the technology hasn’t served me, as much as I have become a slave to the technology. The Red Herring lies in the advantages of having immediate access to a rich and easily searchable store of data, but as Carr and many others have pointed out, they come at a price. The Net seems to be chipping away at not only our capacity for concentration and contemplation, but for relationship.
The question I get asked the most is not, “If God is so good, why is there so much evil in our world?” Or “What do you think Israel will do in this Middle East crises?” None of these even makes the top five. The questions I get asked the most can be paraphrased into the following: “Are there any boundaries I can set up, so that technology doesn’t overtake my soul, my children, and my family? How can I get order back to my life? What do you do to curb the tide of our digital world nipping at our souls?”
All this accessibility and portability, while convenient and entertaining, has its downsides. The following scenes may be an eerie reminder of our world. Your son wants to stay awake an extra hour to play video games; your daughter is glued to her cell phone, and constantly texting her friends; your child spends more time on Facebook than he does reading. What ever happened to those days where we played outside with friends and were entertained for hours on end with a large cardboard box that doubled as a fort?
What about you personally? If you don’t check your emails the first thing in the morning, does your stress goes up? When you get home, do head straight to the computers, instead of spending that time with loved ones? While sitting at the dinner table, is everyone dialed in to their gadgets, or does everyone separate and go their own way with food and device? Do you desire to escape from those annoying beeps the chirp at you all day long? Can you help? Does the Bible have anything to say on this issue?
Every time I hear or ponder these questions I hurt because we are all desperately searching for answers. I surely don’t have all the answers; I’m trying to figure them out myself. But, I do know this, one of the greatest gifts you can give to family and friends is your time and presence; when we’re attached to technology, we convey the message that our loved ones and friends aren’t important to us. So, without throwing the baby out with the bath water, how do we utilize technology that can serve us, not enslave us?
How can we draw boundaries around our lives in a digital world? What principles may guide us? I would like to offer several suggestions for reeling in your gadget use and making sure that technology doesn’t railroad your relationships or your life. At the core, it’s about creating boundaries and sticking to them. Here are several boundaries that may serve you well:
1. Talk to your family. If you have a spouse and kids, have an open conversation with them about when it’s appropriate to turn to technology and when it isn’t. Draw boundaries around your most important rituals and times of the day that you’d like to protect (like dinnertime or breakfast on the weekends) and those that are less important. During these less important lulls, everyone can take 30 minutes for tech time. However, I need to
underscore that every couple and family is different in what works for them. For instance, some couples
prefer more alone time than others, so an hour of work or play at night on their laptops isn’t a big deal.
Other couples or families however, use the evening as their sacred time. The important thing is to be on the
same page and for everyone to feel respected and cared for. As an example, my wife and I have chosen our
dinnertime as sacred space for our family where we talk, laugh and intentionally listen to our children’s
hearts. Also, our back porch is a Smartphone free zone, so that conversations can go deeper. Some of the
most sacred moments with my two young boys have come from our distraction-free porch time.
2. Establish consistent boundaries. If you have a demanding job or a hobby that requires being plugged in, establish a boundary every evening when you’ll check your email and do your work. If you have kids, that boundary might be established after their bedtime. Allotting the same time every night lets you accomplish your tasks without distraction, reduces your anxiety and won’t interfere with special moments. This way, you’re technology doesn’t enslave you — instead of doing everything around technology, it serves you.
3. Keep gadgets in a designated spot and silent. Let’s be honest: When your smart phone or iPad is close by, it’s too temping to grab it and start surfing when you hear it beep and vibrate. Having a Smartphone, MP3 player, laptop, or iPad constantly with you is like a baby crying: There’s a constant sense that something’s happening somewhere and you’re not doing something about it. So, keeping it out of sight and turning your settings to silent mode, will provide great peace for your soul… trust me the world won’t fall apart without your replies for several hours.
4. Limit your distractions – Do one task at a time. You might find yourself with three, four, or five windows open on your desktop, your Smartphone beeping, texts coming in, and your stress going up. We must learn to know when to say NO. Learn to say NO to multiple devices at once. A good place to start is to limit your multitasking. Do one thing at a time and you’ll find you actually will save time and be more productive, not less productive. I have found I am much more productive if my email window is closed down, while I’m working on a critical project that needs uninterrupted block time. A recent study by Stanford University showed that multitasking was highly over-rated and often counterproductive. By controlling our devices we take back control of our time as well. Once we learn that we are the master of our interruptions and not a 24/7 all-day receptionist for twitter, facebook, and others; then we will experience liberation within our soul.
5. Take a digital vacation. I love the movie, “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray and Richard Dryfeuss. One of the classic lines in the movie from pshychologist Leo Marvin (Richard Dryfeuss) is when he counsels the neurotic patient Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) to take a vacation from his “problems.” I know it may sound hard to do, but a monthly mental health day from all digital electronics: no Twitter, no Facebook, and no client e-mails will liberate you, not hinder you. I simply kick back and tell myself, “It can wait until tomorrow.” What this does is give you a Sabbath rest from the frenetic and returns your soul back to you. If you’re a parent, this one is especially gratifying. To be free from all digital electronics for you and your kids for the day will launch some great surprises of quality time and conversations that may have been missing.
To really live life to the fullest we must not let the digital world drive us, but we need to take control of our
lives by setting clear boundaries in a digital world. For boundaries are not limiters to freedom, but boundaries unleash levels of freedom. I encourage all of us to embrace this one life that God has given to us by learning to say “no” more to our digital world and say “yes” to the importance of soul care for ourselves and our families. Let’s embrace — the natural world and clear our heads, walk outside more, turn off all the screens around you, read a book, pray and meditate, have dinner with friends, drive quietly with the windows down, make love frequently with your spouse and groom the dog. Go hear the magic of a symphony, get out of town and study the stars above. Take the iPod out of your ears and listen to the wind in the trees. Look people in the eye when they’re talking to you, and most of all open your heart to the whispers of God.
Spiritual leader and teacher David Hancock will conduct a free seminar on this critical topic, “Boundaries – Drawing Lines In A Digital World” on Sunday mornings, 10 am, Oct.28, Nov. 4, and Nov. 11 at Christ Fellowship church in Prosper, TX. Bring a friend, for everybody is welcome! For more information visit www.christfellowshippreston.com