“Men have become the tools of their tools.” ~Henry David Thoreau
Are you addicted to your smart phone? Do you spend a significant chunk of the day online? Or playing games? Or watching TV? How long can you go without checking status updates or text messages or your twitter feed?
Our Smart Phones and I-Pads and laptops and email and Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram accounts dominate our free time and often our work time. Businesses around the world have had to block social media to force employees off Facebook and back to work. Teachers struggle to get their kids from surreptitiously using their cell phones to text other kids often sitting right next to them in the same class!
It’s addicting and it’s changing how we communicate.
Quality vs. Quantity
Not only has it expanded the “to whom” part of communication, it has also changed the “how” of communication.
The more we rely on electronic media and electronic forms of interaction, ironically, the more disconnected we become. The frequency of talk has increased without gaining any real substance for all the chatter. We interact with more people, but in less intimate ways. We participate in a sort of semi-communication where words are electronically conveyed without most of the communicative detail of tone and volume, body language and facial cues. Nuance is lost.
The subtler details of communicating are reduced to a series of emoticons. We now know more about people without truly knowing the people we know about. We feel connected without the humanness of actual connection. We are alone even as we update statuses and read others’ updates. It’s closeness by distance. Public isolation. We sit in the middle of a crowd of people with ear phones and cell phones, tuned out of the lives of those right next to us.
Forward or Backward?
“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” ~Aldous Huxley
Don’t get me wrong. I am not disparaging technology. I love it. I rely on it. It has spawned a production revolution that has done more to improve the human condition than most realize. So be clear that I am not suggesting we need to turn back the clock to a simpler time of buggies and wagons.
I’m simply suggesting that too many of us are strangers to our own families. Electronic communication has replaced the real intimacy of reading faces and seeing real smiles and leaning on shoulders and the power of touch with a strange sort of pseudo intimacy. Social trivia has made social intimacy seem boring.
And so we’re left knowing what everyone eats and when they sleep and what they think about a million things we shouldn’t really care much about and would otherwise never have known if not for Twitter and Facebook.
So this week’s challenge is not a throwback to an earlier age. It’s simply a fast from social media and electronic entertainment. I’m challenging you to reconnect at a deeper level with the pulse of those you live with. Relationships require time. The more isolated time we spend clicking keyboards, the less time we have to connect with the living in our own homes.
“There are few times that I feel more at peace, more in tune, more Zen, if you will, than when I force myself to unplug.” ~Harlan Coben
Take a full week away from TV. Stay off YouTube and Facebook. Leave your phone at home. Plug back in to those physically around you.
Watch what happens to your relationships when you have to think of more creative ways to interact. Watch what happens to your energy level when you’re sitting down in front of the TV or laptop less often. Watch what happens to your self-respect when you’re using your time more productively to engage in more meaningful activities.
A week may be too short to fully appreciate the changes this challenge inspires. But pay attention to the initial stirrings. You will early on begin to sense the potential here. Your family and friends just may notice something different about you too!
The first few days may be punctuated by prolonged periods of awkward silence. After all, you are just not used to talking in real time, looking at another human face. But be patient and keep at it. Don’t throw in the towel just because you’re not used to the feeling of having to talk to your family.
If you can’t think of anything to say, do something together. Take a walk. Play a game. Work on a puzzle you both like. Build a Lego castle together.
So, have you accepted this challenge yet?
To make it official:
I hereby challenge you to abstain from anything electronic for communication or entertainment purposes.
- No TV
- No computer
- No Smart Phone
- No X-Box, WII or other game system
- No email or texting or Status updates or Tweeting or Digging or Linking In, or otherwise using social media.
1. If you rely on such things for work, keep doing what you need to do. But again, be sure to do the work, then log off, shut down and tune back into face-time with real, living people.
2. If there are friends who are dependent on your communication, who would be deeply and irreparably offended (you might take that as a sign that it’s time to go look for some new emotionally stable friends too!), then let them know ahead of time about the challenge.
Two Alternative Commitments
If, on the other hand, you feel the challenge is too long, maybe even senseless and have decided the benefits are not worth the costs, try one of the following alternative challenges, much like a smoker cutting down instead of going cold turkey:
1. Try a one-day fast from all things electronic.
2. Set aside a time after which or a frame within which you will stop using social media and other electronic devices. Let your friends, associates and family know you will be engaged in this challenge, so they’re not offended when you fail to return a text or a call until the next day.
My Personal Commitment
I will limit my blog and Facebook time to the hours of 5am to 8am with the only exception being if my family wakes up earlier or later than that. This will be no easy challenge for a blogger who uses Facebook and other social media to build his audience and provide value to readers.
“The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.” ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb
A week without Facebook or video games or TV may seem like a difficult thing to do. But keep in mind that for half my life, there were no such things as the internet or Facebook or cell phones.
Telephones had cords and were attached to phones that were attached to walls. Computers took up whole rooms and for most people were only seen on Star Trek.
But it can be done. Just think of what will happen when you sit down and talk more often with your mom. Have a heart-to-heart with grandma. Play a game with your kid sister. Bake a cake for dad.
Think about the good you can do with the time you used to spend on electronic media. You can volunteer at a shelter, go to church, read a great book, learn a musical instrument (or at least start learning one), memorize poetry, write a love song for your sweetheart. The possibilities are almost limitless.
So, are you ready for the challenge?
What are you going to do with your extra time?
Let me know in the comments!
Please share this challenge with those who may need to unplug and reconnect!