Technology Fuels Self Focus
This past week in Sunday School, our teacher was sharing what it was like to date when he was in college. At that time, there was only one phone in the dorm, and it was shut off at 11 pm. He really liked to talk to the woman who would be his wife, so he got a job at the switchboard, and was able to continue talking with her past 11 pm.
This reminded me of my college experience. When I was in college, we all had phones in our rooms to share but had a limit of 45 minutes that we could be on because there were limited number of connections available to the University. We had an old-school note system that we could use if our significant other was on campus that was also available.
After I left college, instant messaging through AOL was a big thing, as cell phones were just starting to come out. Most chatting happened on a PC over dial-up, and that’s where I met my lovely wife. We found each other there, while I was texting with multiple people all over America in the Christian interest, we met, dated, and we’re still making history.
Today, my oldest son can talk with his girlfriend at any time when his phone is present. He can be working on something, be at dinner, at camp around the campfire, and she can reach him at any time, and it only takes a few seconds to respond. He can almost live together during all his free time in this virtual way.
With the note system, as with USPS or the typical mail, you wrote a note, sprayed it with your best cologne or perfume, wrote it as gushy as you could, and sent it via guys taking notes from one side of the campus to the other. This involved you taking time, her taking time, and waiting for it to arrive.
With the phone, you interrupted their study time– I didn’t say if it was welcome or not!– and you consumed some time, but then went on to do the other things you had to.
With AIM, you could definitely multitask on your computer (and we used AIM to send instant messages at work, sharing code all the time), but you had to be sitting there, on the internet. I mean, I did buy a portable IM gadget someone made and thought it would be cool to be somewhere else in the house and do it, but it never really fulfilled its promises.
With text messaging, social media and things like Snapchat, you can talk all the time. The ultimate in multitasking or being rude to those present while you prioritize someone further away.
And that’s the problem. The more you multitask, whether it’s in your business meeting or sitting around the living room on a weeknight, the more you’re not really present for those that want your time. Doesn’t matter how boring that time is, you are saying that your time is more important than being present. We’re not talking about emergencies, we’re just talking about those little notifications that show up that cry out for your attention.
It goes to this comic– she wants a text so she doesn’t have to talk to her dad, doesn’t have to respond to him, can keep doing whatever else she’s doing, and she can prioritize her conversation with her dad, which probably isn’t the same as the television show she’s watching. The comic is also showing that communication has evolved beyond talking, we don’t want to keep that kind of focus, we want to read it and respond to that.
What to Do?
Just because you have technology doesn’t mean you have to use it. Here are some thoughts and tips:
- Discipline your phone usage.
- If something is a priority, excuse yourself from the people you are with and give a call.
- Your distracted presence isn’t a constant reminder of how you are physically present but mentally distant.
- Practice email hygiene, and control when you track it.
- Don’t give people the impression that you will respond immediately to non-emergency things.
- Control how often your email is polled, make it so that you are only notified of important emails.
- Put your phone in a charger when you walk in the door, and don’t check it until the next day.
Interesting thing– my habit of getting online to chat with 10 to 15 people all night ended soon after I was married. My wife insightfully asked why I would want to keep spending time with all these people when I had her. It was a clear reminder of priorities!