There was likely a time in the last 20 years when many thought about the great advantages coming our way through 24-hour connectivity.
Think how much we can get done! Think how easily we will stay connected! Think of how cool it will be to send a message whenever we want! I am guilty. I did not stop to consider the addict I would become to information. I did not stop to consider the slave I would become to responding immediately. I did not consider how intrusive I can become in the lives of others. These thoughts have been running around in my head for the last few months.
As a week of vacation approached, including seven days without digital connectivity, a forced hiatus from email and social media would be a good time to evaluate my thoughts. Admittedly there were lessons learned. Some were easy to accept, others will require some work.
Before leaving, I put technology to work for me. I set all of my away messages and voicemail to respond to incoming emails. It also meant recognizing that emergencies as I had been defining them were not really emergencies at all. That was a shot to the ego. Then I set my phone to not roam for digital signals or WIFI. It was on an international trip. If one thing will drive me off the grid, it is the exorbitant international rates. Facebook and Twitter could wait.
About those lessons … the easy ones.
1. Our entire family finally relaxed after a day or two. There were no messages to raise our anxiety. Not being connected, however, was anxiety enough, but that too passed.
2. There were no phones on the tables at meals, or walking with our heads down, and no missed experiences because of digital distractions.
3. We played games, told stories and laughed with friends, rather than split our attention with people who were not in the room.
But then there is the tough lesson: How do I balance this new found outlook? At our first chance, we all logged into our phones for messages, news and social media sites. Our conversations became choppy and more superficial. Our attention to the experiences around us were diverted by trying to text or catch the latest headline.
We have work to do. I believe, as the parents, that our examples can change the culture of our families in that regard. To that end, these are a few experiments I hope I can turn into positive habits.
1. Turn my phone off at mealtimes. I will not just set it aside, but will actually power it off. That way there are no buzzes or bings to drive my behavior.
2. I’ll wean myself from having my iPad and iPhone nearby. It is literally within arms reach almost 24 hours a day. That cannot be healthy. At this point, I am serving technology rather than it serving me.
3. From dinnertime through my kids bedtime, I’ll use my phone only as a phone, not as a toy, messaging device or information delivery service. Perhaps I’ll install a cradle on the wall in the kitchen where my phone can just sit, like the avocado green corded device that hung in the kitchen of my childhood.
I suspect I will find games to play with my family, read a book or have meaningful conversation at night again, assuming we can keep the TV off as well. And you thought this post was only about social media.
Finally, to manage the expectations of those 24/7 emailers, I’ll set an away message that comes on every night at 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next day. It will read, “Thanks for your email. My phone and I are off work for the night. I’ll respond on the next business day.”
What ideas are you using to be better balanced in your life?
Brian Foreman, a Raleigh dad of two, is a social media educator. Go to his website for more information about his book "How to be Social Media Parents." He writes for Go Ask Mom.