This is our third post in a series where we explore daily practices that nurture and encourage healing. Our last post discussed “The Importance of Play.” This post explores how we can create balance and boundaries with our digital devices in ways that honor our relationship with ourselves, as well as our relationships with others.
Benefits of Technology
Most of us enjoy our digital devices. They enable us to express ourselves via blogs, tweets, facebook, and forums that connect ideas globally. We have the ability to speak face-to-face with loved ones even if they live across the world. We are no longer confined to our desks and offices, and can connect easily with groups in order to accomplish work and study tasks. Favorite movies, videos, and games are available on demand wherever we are. Shopping needs are satisfied instantly with just a click.
Challenges of Technology
While we may enjoy our devices, it may be helpful to reflect on how technologies impact the ways we relate to ourselves and others. Over the past two decades, digital devices have changed what we do with our time and how we connect with others. Cell phones, iPads, minis, laptops, and video games are constant companions. How and when did this happen? The New York Times article, Silicon Valley Says Step Away from the Device, used this metaphor:
“If you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it’ll boil to death — it’s a nice analogy,” said Mr. Crabb, who oversees learning and development at facebook. People “need to notice the effect that time online has on your performance and relationships.”
The constant pull of these devices makes it difficult to be fully present with the people around us. We might have lunch with a friend when our phone beeps to alert us of a text or facebook message. How do we decide what is most important for this moment? Do we notice that our attention has shifted and that we are no longer engaged in the original conversation? How do we balance the ever-increasing demands of our devices so that we continue to stay connected with the people right in front of us?
To make our life livable, we have to have spaces where we are fully present to each other or to ourselves, where we are not competing with the roar of the Internet and the people around us are not competing with the latest news off the facebook status update. They may not have anything new. They may just be there being in a way that needs attention. Sherry Turkle, On Being
Sherry Turkle suggests creating time in our day that she calls “sacred spaces.” These are times when we set aside digital devices in order to be present with ourselves and the people around us. These intentional sacred spaces might include:
- Dropping off and picking up kids from school.
- Dinner time as a family or couple.
- Time with oneself, such as a walk around the neighborhood.
Brené Brown suggests creating what she calls “white space” in the day. When we stop at a red light, many of us automatically check texts or facebook. This constant need to stay plugged in does not allow our mind space to slow down and rest. Brown suggests noticing this compulsive tendency and letting it go.What if we took the moment to just be? We could connect with our breathing, notice the surroundings, and reengage with the present moment? S.T.O.P. is an example of a mindfulness exercise that may assist us in learning to be present in the little tiny white spaces of our day.
S – Stop or pause.
T – Take a deep breath and relax.
O – Observe in the present moment: What sounds do I notice? Where is my breath? How does my body feel? What am I saying in my mind? What is one way I can respond to myself with compassion in this moment?
P – Proceed – Where was my attention before S.T.O.P.? Did it match my intention? Do I want to continue or attend to something else? (Zylowska, 2012)
Some people take an opposite approach and set certain times of the day to plug in. This may mean limiting email, Twitter, and facebook to certain times of the day. Since they have specific time set aside for digital management, they are able to be more fully present with children, spouses, or family members.
Begin a Conversation
Many large companies related to the digital industry are joining the conversation on the benefits of unplugging for a little while every day. The executives at Google brought in Jon Kabat-Zinn to train their employees on how to practice mindfulness in order to decrease stress and become more present in their own lives. What if we begin a conversation with the important people in our lives about where technology fits and does not fit in our daily routines?
Take time to talk with family members about how digital devices enhance and detract from relationships. As we talk, we can begin to create boundaries that balance our significant relationships with the powerful benefits the digital world has to offer.