Thursday, June 17, 2010

Establishing Boundaries with Technology

I don't remember how many years ago it was that I was introduced to social media. After email, Instant Messaging was the first thing I guess that was considered social media. I can remember thinking, "You mean, my friends can know when I'm online and they can type things to me right then?" This blew my mind. Then I was introduced to a thing called Myspace, then Facebook, then Twitter, and who knows what's next.
And the more available this stuff becomes, the more it seems to suck us into its vortex. Because all these portals are feeding us information...information that seems very important. This apparent need for this information is just plain addictive. I mean who would want to miss the fact that Aunt Sally's dog in Pennsylvania just had puppies and the pictures are on Facebook. I am usually behind the technology curve. A lot of tech toys that break sales records on their release days don't wind up in my hands until a few months or years have gone by and they have released a newer better version. You can also understand that it took me a while before I made the move to open a Twitter account. After I began tweeting and following some of my favorite friends and organizations, I can remember watching the feed in fear that I was going to miss something. Without realizing it, I was becoming addicted to watching that news stream and for the first couple of weeks, I realized I was not very productive. Fortunately, the newness wore off and I could maintain a Twitter account and still resume the normal functions of my life.

So what I have had to do is establish some boundaries with when, where, and how I utilize technology. Since I am in ministry, tech toys and gadgets are legitimate tools of the trade to get information out there. But I don't want to end up like one of my students who posted on Facebook that she wished people would quit texting her cell phone so she could get some sleep, to which I had to reply "You can turn it off, you know! LOL" So here are the things I have done to be able to have what I hope is a healthy lifestyle,and still be connected to the information world.

1. I don't have a smartphone. There are several reasons why I don't have an iphone, Blackberry, or Droid (man, I want one bad). One is the financial commitment of the data plan. Cindy and I are in Dave Ramsey's Baby Step 2, so we are trying to be really conservative with our money. Also, this allows me to be a husband and father when I'm at home, instead of constantly checking office emails on my cell phone. I am not condemning smart phones or people who use them. I just think there is a danger to having that much connectivity all the time and sooner or later it starts to interfere with our lives. I hope that when I do get a smart phone, it does not become something that is an absolute lifeline for my well-being.

2. I do most of my internet work at the office. Since we both have cell phones, we never had phone lines installed at our home. Since we don't have home phone service, we don't get the bundle rate on home internet, nor do we have the lines that the high-speed internet service uses. So, you can see where this is going. And we're doing just fine. Not having internet at home gives me more time to spend with my wife and family and for stuff I love like tending my garden, taking care of my chickens, or helping my dad with his cows. If I need to know something right away, I can usually find it somewhere or pick up the phone.

3. Realize that written/electronic communication is different than spoken language. While I occasionally might have a conversation with someone through 15 text messages rather than 1 phone call, I still try to pick up the phone now and then. Also, while textual language-whether on a cell phone, email, Facebook, or Twitter-is verbal, it is not auditory. So the nonverbal cues that accompany those words (voice inflection. a chuckle, etc.) are not. Yes, we have LOL and :( to denote how we are feeling, but the bottom line is that print communication is just different. Another thing that we must be aware of is that we often say things in chat or email that we might never say in person because we are too embarrassed or because these things are inappropriate. More than once have I hurt someone's feelings or gave someone a wrong impression because they interpreted something I had typed in a way that was different from the way I meant it.

What things do you do in your life to establish balance and boundaries with technology and information addiction?

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