“The lapse of ages changes all things—time, language, the earth, the bounds of the sea, the stars of the sky, and every thing ‘about, around, and underneath’ man, except man himself.” Lord Byron, 1788–1824
Or, to put it more simply:
“Technology changes, people do not.” – Deb Schultz
If you have been keeping up with my attempt at a blog series up until now, you will know that new technology hasn’t really changed as much as we think, it pays to be present, and it is very helpful to manage time spent with new technology. I am definitely not the first person with a notion to manage time spent with new tech, however.
While I’ve been writing this series of posts about what technology has not changed, I keep coming across stories, in turn influencing my own ideas, of people who have been giving up or managing new technology in their lives.
I have noticed new tech abstinence a lot especially concerning New Year’s resolutions. A Washington Post article has 5 tips for “digital detoxing”. A show on New York City’s public radio station called New Tech City has been doing a series in the new year challenging listeners to track their smartphone usage with apps. A gentleman named Blake Snow, who has a popular blog about offline living, gives 8 tips to curb smartphone addiction.
While all of these contain excellent tips and bits of wisdom, and can help you become more aware of how much time you spend on the Internet, I worry that people will use temporary retreats from new tech much like they do fad dieting: short-term fixes for long-term problems.
It is helpful to think about the why then. Why are so many people wanting to do this as of late? What is the point?
There are a couple of personal testimonies about this phenomenon I have stumbled across that are really inspiring. One is by Christian artist Propaganda. In his spoken word he puts it this way, “Multitasking is a myth.” “You ain’t doin’ anyone anything—just everything mediocre.” “Time begged me to stop stretching her so thin and stuffing her so full, stop being so concerned with the old her and the future her. But love her—now.” “I guess you could say I’ve been through a divorce now. Me and my phone are no longer married. I think I’m ready to be here, now.” It’s worth watching the whole thing.
Technology evangelist Robert Scoble, who I have followed for almost the past decade and who has been on the bleeding edge of new tech for years, wrote a surprising Facebook post recently about giving up the Internet and finding the “white space”, or the white border that frames art, in his life. White space is to figure out what we’re about and where we’re going next, “I need white space to figure it all out with not just my employer, but my partner, my boss, my wife, and many others.”
Why are these two men doing this? What do they have in common? It’s pretty amazing considering they both have large audiences to communicate with over the Internet. Many would envy being in their positions.
What it comes down to is that we want to pay more attention to our relationships. The relationships in our business, in our families, and of our faith. “We need to heal as a family,” said Robert Scoble. Propaganda’s insight came when he realized he needed to give his wife his full attention. Is it really that easy to forget about our families? Yes.
We have limited attention spans. Humans are still wired the same way we’ve always been. But now we have more to be preoccupied with than ever before.
New technology allows so many individual streams of information to converge into one, something terrible, torrential river. Trying to keep up and interact with so many streams at once distracts from the stuff that really matters to us.
I believe new technology is ultimately for the better good. It can help us make better, smarter decisions. But we have to have the willpower and intentionality to navigate and use it. And it cannot encroach on time spent on the relationships with people around us.
When you think about it, people are information. We are bundles of speaking, grimacing, laughing, pointing, and touching individuals. To catch all of those queues, we need to pay attention and give each other our undivided attention. We should be knowledgeable about people. Knowledgeable in this context means that we need to prioritize our time around people.
Needless to say, there is a premium for this kind of human interaction. And it pays to be present. Otherwise we miss out and don’t even realize it.
The illustration at the top of this post is the simple and beautiful wisdom of children’s authors Maurice Sendak and Ruth Krauss in “Open House For Butterflies“. Perhaps we could use their advise and try a version of their single-tasking, instead of multi-tasking.
I can spend time with one stream, whether a project, reading, or, most importantly, a person. However seemingly small, I can give that my full attention, and see what I can learn.
How great would that be?
Take the time to pick out a stream today, sit by it, and listen.