“There’ll be one corporation
selling one little box
It will do what you want
and tell you what you want
and cost whatever you got….
– from this song by Greg Brown
Though Greg Brown wrote this song 20+ years ago, it’s spot on – though we seem to have 2 corporations and one little box of varying sizes.
Sane boundaries with our ever-expanding technology…. I’m deeply interested in this topic. I keep waiting to stumble upon the persons who are writing about growing such sane boundaries with technology, and I’m surprised I’ve not found more of them.
So here I sit musing on my own ideas.
I wonder, what are we losing by turning, so often to our “boxes?” In case you haven’t guessed, by box I mean your iPhone, Android, iPad, laptop, desktop, all plugged into the world wide web.
Are we losing wonder?
Are we losing the capacity to discover the riches hidden in boredom?
Are we losing extended time cloud watching and sky gazing?
Are we losing the capacity to not be entertained or fed by outer stimulus?
Are we shrinking our capacity to simply BE in our life? And what could be more human?
Every year the technology expands. Every year it seems we have devices that promote anything but this moment, anywhere but right here where we are.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my phone as much as the next guy. I love my camera, I love my Instagram, I love my audio books on demand. And yet I wonder….
Are we losing quiet?
By quiet, I don’t only mean external quiet, but internal psychic space that isn’t filled by our Facebook feed, texts, emails, Instagram, Twitter, audiobooks, apps, music, and opportunities for distraction always at our fingertips.
You guys! I want to stand up for the preciousness of quiet. (This is a reminder to my inner life as it’s so damn easy to be tempted by that glowing screen. So self – listen up!)
The opportunity to wake up in the dark, when the neighborhood is still quiet, when traffic is relatively still; when my mind is floating in that early morning consciousness barely out of dreamland – oh, to protect this precious state! In traditional contemplative cultures these early morning hours are considered the “sweet time” for connecting with the sacred.
And how tempting it is to reach for a glowing screen and “just check in.”
How easy it is to follow that little itch that wants me to turn outward, to lose what tender sprouts might emerge from my one and only morning-mind!
Years ago, I recall staying in the house of a friend. During the first few years of our Feldenkrais professional training, Carl and I stayed in our Volkswagen van for the month of training. (Don’t worry – we showered on the regular at the local college’s fitness center.) There was an older couple doing the training who became our dear friends. When his wife was coming late to the training once or twice, our friend invited us to stay in his casita rather than van-camping. I remember his amused look when we confessed, “We really don’t talk to each other in the morning until after meditation. Please don’t be offended if we don’t talk to you.”
You know that Buddhist image used in teaching meditation? The jar of muddy water – when you set it still, the mud settles and the water is clear – rather like our minds. When I wake in the morning, usually, the mud has settled. Looking at Facebook shakes my jar. Checking in on NPR shakes my jar. Hearing a flood of someone else’s busy-mind thoughts (even interesting ones) shakes my jar. I like to quietly make a coffee or tea, head to sit myself on my cushion and be the clear water, mud settled. The day will stir it up, inevitably. I don’t fight that. But I will fight to protect the morning quiet from the one little box and all its temptations. I also want to stand up for the frequent pauses during the day when the mud can settle if I can stop shaking it up with more and more information and interactions. The more I take time to be the clear water of presence, the easier it becomes for me to find it in the midst of days full of lots of shaking the mud.
In the morning, I love to make a coffee, sit on my cushion and meditate, contemplate, remember who I am and what I’m intending to do with this one life… and only then emerge into the everyday consciousness of planning, responding, doing, and turning outward. For me, it’s essential to sink my roots into the clear space of presence before I hop on the treadmill of responding to others. The preciousness of the morning quiet is even more pronounced for me today than it used to be 10 years ago.
What I really want to say is this:
I think about Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver writing on American food culture, and how they attribute many of the issues we have with childhood obesity and various health issues related to our diet to the fact that our food culture is only 200+ years old. Only 200 years old! And we’re still working our way toward coherent food culture.
How long will it take us to catch up with creating a sane technology-culture?! Is it possible? And the technology just keeps changing… If I remember correctly, I got my first cell phone about 12 years ago, and my first smart phone about 3 years ago. Not 200 years.
I want us to see the Wild-Westness of where we stand in human history with these glowing devices in hand. Uncharted. Possibly insane. Not really knowing how to integrate it all. And we’re attempting to make sense of it while parenting little humans and keeping in touch with friends and family and doing our best to stay abreast of current events and lifelong-learning, not to mention laundry and mail and cooking and dishes and oh yes, working.
What I really want to say is this:
I want us to trust that when our bodies and minds are saying “It’s too much!” and “I want to throw my phone in the river!” and “I just can’t seem to stay caught up on email!” that perhaps it’s not a fault of our work ethic or our personal stamina.
Perhaps our stress is the signal that can help us to evolve more sane boundaries with our little boxes. We’re in this together. And perhaps we REALLY need to pay attention to these signals to help our culture evolve in truly sane ways. If it feels terrible, maybe what needs to change is not us working more to stay “caught up” on the hamster wheel of digital communications, but rather an invitation to consider:
We’re in this together. And perhaps we REALLY need to pay attention to these signals to help our culture evolve in truly sane ways. If it feels terrible, maybe what needs to change is not us working more to stay “caught up” on the hamster wheel of digital communications, but rather an invitation to consider: What ARE sane boundaries and expectations as we adjust to living with technology? Maybe we should lower our expectations for what “caught up” means.
I would LOVE to hear your reflections on sane boundaries with technology.
Here are a few of mine, which I stick to about 90% of the time:
- No devices at mealtimes (except an occasional photo.) Definitely no texting or phone conversations at the table.
- No checking in with my screens until I’ve done my morning meditation practice and done some writing.
- Our son, now 6, has rarely played with a screen-based device, other than his homemade iPad (on a flat stone) or when he sometimes takes my phone to take pictures or record himself making funny noises. Eventually, we’ll introduce him to a bit more freedom with technology but I believe strongly in protecting his childhood from the encroaching of screens, and I believe it’s paramount to nurture his brain development on real interactions with real human beings, tangible books, grasshoppers and snowflakes and Black-eyed Susans and river stones and grassy hills and swings. It’s hard enough for an adult brain to work out boundaries with tech. How much more so for a little person?
- I never answer my phone if it’s interrupting what I’m doing in the moment. This means I pretty much never answer my phone. (It’s one way I’m evolving sane boundaries with technology.)
- I turn off all notifications for email and etc. on my phone and computer so I never hear a tempting “ding!” when I’ve gotten a new email or a friend has posted a photo or whatnot. No “dings” except that when my ringer is on, I get a tinkling chime when I receive a text. (As an introvert, I confess to being in love with texting. I’d almost always rather text than talk on the phone.) And sometimes, it’s really hard for me to keep up with texts. Oh well!
Here are a few boundaries I’ve dabbled in, but not stuck to:
- A digital sabbath day once a week. (I have tried to initiate this, then, as a self-employed homeschooling mama running a business and a household, I sometimes end up having to seize the opportunity to complete work tasks on the computer on those days.) But I really want a digital sabbath that I stay true to. I love the way when we travel and I’ve been offline for several days, when I then go back to my email or facebook feed, how easy it is to ignore 95% of the stuff that seems relevant when I’m “checking in” many times a day.
- I’d like to banish phones from the bedroom. (I’ve enjoyed using mine as an alarm clock, but then I’m tempted when awakening in the morning to “check in” and that is the very worst way for me to begin a day.)
- I want to return to some of those old-fashioned single-function devices: An alarm clock rather than a phone at the bedside. An egg timer rather than the phone when I’m tracking minutes. A paper calendar instead of an electronic one. (I’m a hold out… I love my paper calendars.) A camera instead of always having my phone. (Though I am in love with my phone’s camera!)
Has it started to feel radical to you to leave your house without your phone? I’m embarrassed to admit that it often does for me. “But what if something happens?” I ask myself. Well, everyone else has a phone, don’t they? “What if I want to take a picture?” Take a full-body sensory snapshot, which is often more satisfying anyway, I say to myself. I want to make the brave choice to leave my phone at home, to leave it in the car, to leave it leave it leave it, and enter life a little more nakedly, much more often.
In American culture, it seems to be the Amish who deeply consider whether a new development in technology will support the quality of life they wish to lead. I wish we as a culture did more of that.
Just because we can make a technology, should we use it? Does it ultimately lead to a quality of life we want? Is it life-giving? And if we do embrace a piece of technology, how can we do it mindfully?
There’s an old zen question: Am I drinking sake, or is sake drinking me?
I like to apply that inquiry to my phone. Am I checking my phone, or is my phone checking me? Sometimes it feels like the matrix is driving rather than my own intentionality.
Sometimes it feels really damn hard, but it also seems worthy to grow my considerations around the invisible impacts of technology.
Do you have a time in your day when you are unplugged? Do you have a sense of the value of protecting such a time? Do you have boundaries on when you shut down your “little box?” Do you think it’s important to unplug frequently? What are your considerations about sane boundaries with technology? I would LOVE to hear. Please consider adding your reflections to the comments. We need each other’s input to evolve together. Thank you!