When I looked at my phone this morning, I had a few notifications asking for my attention.
I had not even had the space to think about my day and what I was going to make of it yet. But I felt the familiar subtle thrust of anxiety and a tiny bit of adrenaline as I saw that people were engaging with me via my posts, my photos and my tweets.
I was faced with a choice: Do I pick up my phone and respond or do I go on with my morning until I feel ready and centered?
With the prevalence of smartphones and more and more wearable technology hitting the market, this is a question we’ll all have to ask ourselves increasingly often. The more available the technology, the less available time and space without it becomes.
By now, most of us have given some thought to the effects of technology on life and relationships. This is not new. We’ve seen videos where scene after scene this woman’s relationships are interrupted by technology. We’ve read articles about how things such as Instagram make us feel.
Technology isn’t bad, but when it keeps us from the things that really matter, it can be. “We shape the medium and the medium shapes us” is what Marshall Mcluhan said. What he means is that the things that we create to help us and meet our needs end up changing us.
Our technology is powerful. Whatever device you’re using to read this could also connect you with much of the world. After all, revolutions have been organized with Twitter!
The power of technology is fun, alluring and overwhelming. We need intentionality in the way we engage in order to keep us from being too engrossed in it (or even enslaved by it). In a similar way that we give intentionality to bring health to other parts of life (God, family, exercise, eating, etc.), we need intentionally with our use of technology. In fact, in a lot of ways, our humanness and the sacred moments of life depend on it.
Here are some simple and practical ideas for you to consider in order to keep your technology serving you and not vice versa. They won’t all fit, but some may. Pick and choose the ones that work for you:
Turn Off Notifications
Do you really want to be interrupted in the middle of a great conversation because someone liked your Instagram photo or last comment on Facebook? The more notifications you have on, the more often your device will be commanding your attention.
Protect Relational Time
When you’re spending relational time, be intentional about not checking your technology. Keep your phone out of sight (in your pocket, purse, or bag).
I’ve been inspired by some families who don’t allow technology at the table or in certain rooms of the house. Others put their devices away at a set hour every evening to keep family time relationally focused.
Protect Creative Time
Creative output is hard work. It’s easy to distract ourselves by checking in on social media streams to avoid the difficulty of the hard work at hand. Instead of working through the stuck feelings, Facebook is only a click away.
By bringing intentionality to your technology use, you can create a better space to stay in the tension and keep pushing through the hard work. Even as I hit difficult spots in writing this, I found myself minutes later lost in social media feeds.
Avoid Impulsive Checking
I notice my desire to check my device is often less about what I’m looking for on the device and more about finding ways away from difficult feelings and tension.
Instead of allowing ourselves to feel these feelings that ask more of us, it’s easy to move our attention elsewhere. Without intentionality, our attention will go the path of least resistance.
When you feel the impulse to check in, it may be helpful to wonder why. Are you trying to find something else to feel? Are you distracting yourself from something difficult?
Avoid Technology in the First or Last Hours of the Day
It’s helpful to avoid technology at the start and end of the day. Generally, how you start your day is how you spend your day. You want to start feeling centered, connected to yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s difficult to come back to yourself and feel as rooted when you let social media tell you how you should feel.
Similarly, how you end my day is typically how you spend your night. Avoid checking in on technology before bed. Email is especially troublesome for me because there may be messages from clients who need me to respond. Nevertheless, it’s best for me not to know what’s waiting for me there until I’m ready to tackle it the next day.
Batch Your Engagement
Rather than doing quick check-ins throughout the day on social media and email, work in chunks. You’re more efficient if you read and respond to a bunch of messages at once. Task switching (into email and then back out) can keep you from focusing, accomplishing and connecting with that what you’re doing or who you’re doing it with.
I love technology. I love that I can connect with you wherever you are through this article because of technology. Technology makes a whole world of possibilities available to us at any moment.
But the more available technology is, the more you have to wrestle with the the choice I was faced with this morning: do you pick it up and respond or do you go on with what’s in front of you until you’re ready and centered?
You are more than your technology, more than your social media engagement and more than your friend and follower count. Let’s use technology to keep us connected and help us do the work that matters, while keeping it from taking over our lives.
Dan Cumberland is on a mission to help you do more work you love. He's the founder of the Meaning Movement and creator of the Calling Course. Find him on twitter @dancumberland.