Love it. Hate it. Use it. Constantly!
Tech, Connectivity, and the era BC (before cellphones)
My generation will be the last one to remember when we didn’t have some form of cell or mobile phone. It is impossible to remember life without them. It is even more impossible to think that at one point, when I was a child living in the country, we had party lines, which meant that we had to wait until the neighbors down the road finished their call before we made ours.
Those of us who lived BC (before cellphones) were advised to always have change in our pockets when traveling to college just in case we needed to use the pay phone (that Dr. Who-like-structure). And we didn’t even have answering machines—why it’s a miracle we survived.
In fact, when I travelled to Europe with my roommate, our parents didn’t even know what country we were in! We called them one time to let them know when our plane would arrive home. In college, I survived by talking on a phone with a mile-long cord that reached out into the hall for privacy. All those things date me and I am laughing now as I write.
Tech Today and Real Connectivity
All that has changed since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, and with it, the possibility to have instant access to any piece of information, any contact, or to live life continually online!
Don’t get me wrong—I love my iPhone! I use it every day in my work. The instant access to my kids who live in another state is wonderful. And, best of all, I can ask my husband to pick up dinner or order it online in about 2 minutes. All beneficial. Right?
What I dislike about this instant-access-reality is that when I want solitude, the virtual world keeps intruding.
For instance, I was sharing coffee with a friend this morning. While we are catching up and deep in the conversation—DING—a text message from someone who needs to know if I got an email. Although I don’t deal with it at that moment, this request is now lodged in the lower regions of my awareness and suddenly I feel rushed to finish the conversation with my dear friend and answer the text. Yuck…
A Strategy for Being Present
My children, now young adults, are much better than I at keeping clearer boundaries around instant access. In fact, they introduced me to the concept of a Phone Stack—a wonderful and fun way to set boundaries around phone use when on an outing with others.
The Urban Dictionary (a rather irreverent creation of the world of instant access) defines “phone stack” as:
A game that takes place usually over a meal or any social gathering in an attempt to get everyone to actually interact with each other as opposed to being glued to their smartphone screens. The rules are as followed [sic].
Everyone in the group must give up their phones and place them in a pile, stacking them on top of one another. The goal is to then see who can go the longest without their device. Then, whoever caves first, must suffer the consequences of whatever punishment was decided on prior to the stacking. Say you are at a restaurant. Everyone would stack their phones in the middle of the table. It is agreed upon among the participants that whoever grabs their phone first must pay the bill.
We now use this “game” so that everyone is engaged and conversing without the distraction of the phone and we are all on the same page.
I like establishing boundaries around the use of technology in a fun way when in social situations. It changes in different places, such as, at the movies, in church, or on a plane where the standard for behavior is imposed on the larger group—“Please turn off all cell phones.” Once the announcement is made, everyone knows the rules—no cell phone use in the theater, during take-off, or in the middle of communion.
But that sort of announcement before coffee with a friend might not go as well.
Inviting Others into Real Connectivity
So how do we set shared expectations around technology with friends or family? If I don’t explicitly communicate ahead of time what I’d like the special time spent together to look like, I usually leave my phone on the table or will silence it in my purse or pocket.
But, if you haven’t made the same choice as me, we run the risk (or high likelihood) that one of us will leave time together feeling slightly agitated, frustrated, or hurt because we weren’t on the same page with technology.
But, if one of us says,
“Let’s do phone stack for our coffee time and who ever picks up their phone first pays for coffee next time!”
Then we are all on the same page and smiling!
I am thankful for my phone—it sometimes feels like my brain. I am also thankful that I need face-to-face, heart-to-heart connection, and down-time. I forget that I don’t have to have that small rectangle of global connectivity in my face all the time. I need games like phone stack, reminders at the movies and sometimes even at church. I need discipline to lay my phone down as I enter my quiet time so that it doesn’t replace the instant access that has existed since the beginning of time and doesn’t need recharging!
Here’s to discipline, discernment, and intentionality (and a little bit of play) about how we do life with the blessing/curse of technology.
Charlotte Easley is a member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.