The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all much more grateful for technology — and we’re all sick of it.
Our devices have enabled us to stay connected amidst physical distancing mandates. Zoom Thanksgivings kept us close at long distances, and millions of jobs pivoted to work-from-home with the help of remote technologies.
But despite these blessings, we’re all tired of staring at our screens. As a college student, somehow I miss showing up for morning lectures on campus! And I’d give anything to be able to give my grandmother a long, warm hug.
And while vaccines and new treatments offer a glimmer of hope, there’s still a long winter ahead. We might be tired of depending on our devices, but it seems impossible to escape them anytime soon. So in the cold, dark days to come, how can we keep ourselves from getting tech-exhausted?
The key to the coming months (and the rest of our lives) is found in the Scriptures’ call to worship the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We’re meant to interact with the 3D world not just with our brains, but with our hands and feet — life in the 2D online world all too often keeps us from enjoying the rewards of embodied interaction.
Here are three principles for fulfilling this calling and staying sane in this tech-crazy world.
1. As you engage in the virtual world, stay grounded in the real world.
In our pandemic-stricken world, technology use is often non-negotiable — we have to meet with co-workers over Zoom, or make phone calls to faraway friends.
But what if we could engage with the physical world even as we use our devices?
Earlier this year, I started taking my phone calls outside. The pandemic separated me from friends and colleagues who I needed to connect with, but I don’t love the thought of spending yet more time on a 2-person Zoom call. So, I’ve started taking phone calls as I go on a walk outside. It makes a big difference to enjoy the natural world while I chat, rather than stare at a screen for yet another hour.
On this principle, a lot of our work can benefit from bringing in analog activities. Research shows that we remember information more effectively when we take notes by hand. Try keeping a notebook and pen by your computer for notes and ideas.
We can bring our social activities into Zoomland, too. My brother and his friends had multiple Zoom baking parties this fall — everyone baked chocolate peanut butter cookies at the same time over video chat. I’ve also heard about crafting parties, like knitting or painting together virtually. And perhaps the only way to consistently work out during the pandemic is to have someone else with you (even over FaceTime).
Think about the online activities that fill your life. How could you creatively bring your whole, 3D self to them?
2. If you don’t have to stare at the screen, look away.
But not all our screen time is required for work, or for getting in touch with others.
As much time as we spend at our screens doing work, or keeping in touch with other people, we also spend hundreds of hours every year relying on our devices to entertain us. Between TikTok, Netflix and Steam, our devices offer us more content than we could consume in a lifetime.
Flopping onto the couch for some TV after a long day of work or school might have felt right pre-pandemic. But let’s take this tech-saturated moment to question our inclination towards technological entertainment.
It’s one thing to watch Netflix at the end of a long day of walking, sitting, talking and reading; it’s another to watch Netflix at the end of seven hours of scrolling and typing. That much screen time is dangerous both physically and mentally.
What to do instead? Try a sourdough starter.
As lockdowns swept the US, there were plenty of jokes about the hobbies that everyone picked up, from home carpentry to knitting. But those DIY projects, as trivial as they may seem, point us to the reality that working with our hands and creating something physical is deeply rewarding. God made us to be creative, not just to binge Friends.
This winter, ask yourself how much of your screen time is really necessary. Take action to replace your needless screens with, yes, some hobby like crocheting or beekeeping. Whether it’s writing in a journal, playing with your dog, or going for a run, don’t let screens take away from who God created you to be — live as your embodied self.
3. Reclaim rest from your devices.
Even before the pandemic, younger generations were hardly renowned for healthy work-life balance. But since our work has come home with us, our boundaries have been completely demolished.
Our devices encourage us to always be available, but the price we pay is a sense of constant urgency, demanding we keep up to date with the latest political news or answer that late-night email from a boss.
But this urgency is poisonous. Constant connection makes the concerns of our little worlds seem to expand in importance. In fact, the glorious truth is that God’s world will keep turning without us.
For tech sanity, commit to set aside time from being always reachable, and from the maelstrom of information that our devices send us. Schedule times when you won’t respond to emails and texts, or be on social media. These might be the beginning and end of the day, or mealtimes, or exercise time — but be consistent.
And apply the Sabbath principle to our always-on culture. A Sabbath from technology empowers us to resist what our devices are doing to us. Take Sundays off from social media or streaming TV or video games. It may be countercultural, but it’s worth taking a day off from being at the tender mercies of Google and Facebook.
Ultimately, these guidelines aren’t just for the pandemic. Even if we finally defeat the novel coronavirus, screens will still be transforming our lives.
So these commitments don’t expire when we go back to work in person. Instead, they’re an invitation to go deeper for the rest of our lives — as we seek to live with our heart, soul, mind and strength.