Monday, June 22, 2015

Living Behind Screens

In some of my conversations with different friends before graduation, we discussed technology. We had noticed that other friends who had graduated college had begun “living on the internet,” in a way. We talked about the challenges of building communities after graduation, but the importance of not living online. Today’s blog is some of my further reflections on this topic.

During my final two years of college, I lived in an apartment without internet. My husband and I, since we had just gotten married and leased an apartment, figured that we didn’t need internet at home. We could drive 3ish minutes to campus and use internet. We could use internet during and after our classes. We could drive 5-7 minutes and get to the downtown library. Many times, I really appreciated the separation between technology and the “rest” of life. When we were home, we were fully present to each other without the distraction of computer technology. There were times that the lack of technology was irritating. If we wanted to make a certain type of food and didn’t have the recipe, we would have to drive to The Internet and find it online. If we wanted to know the weather forecast, we would have to drive someplace. My husband was working towards a degree in computer science, and is a “technology guy,” so it was rough for him at times (especially with some homework assignments). 

Now that we’re going to live in our new apartment, we’re hoping to get internet. It’s going to take more discipline and self-control, so that I don’t find myself living behind the screen, which is a major temptation in our society. Because honestly, it seems that many people in our culture live behind screens. I’ve gone to many events where people sit around with their eyes glued to their phones, computer screens, or television screens. People can definitely bond together over technological things (the other day I hung out with Jacob and some other people while watching bot fighting online). Still, if technology has such a large hold on our lives, we can ignore what—and who—really matter.

If we are in social settings and ignore each other for “screen time,” or if we spend the majority of our time on Facebook or other social media, what underlying good are we bringing about? If we spend the majority of “social time” by scrolling through our News Feed, are we really spending our time in the best possible way? While sitting in a waiting room, wouldn’t it be more fulfilling to actually speak with other people than to mindlessly click through Facebook and Twitter? At parties and meals, wouldn’t be more fun and unifying to actually talk with people than to mess around on our phones?

Furthermore, there’s the whole issue of learning. I love learning things by using the internet. But at times, I think there’s too much. With the internet, we can—within seconds—have an overload of information and not actually grow in knowledge. Instead of taking the time to learn about a topic through intensive study and experience, it can become easier to skim through several articles quickly, until our minds are buzzing with disconnected information from various sources. Researching different topics online isn’t bad (it's actually very handy most of the time!), but we can become too dependent on the internet.

Growing up, I did not live in a home with internet until the seventh grade. So, until I was 12 ½, I learned new things by reading books (nonfiction books, good fiction books, encyclopedias), talking with people, and through 4-H. I wrote a fiction book that was 73-handwritten pages long. I played outside. I explored the world. I had a genuine thirst for knowledge, and I developed a sense of creativity. I think that if we don’t responsibly monitor our technology intake, websites, blogs, and social media can start to hinder our natural creativity.

How can we avoid living behind screens?

Each person needs to seriously, honestly evaluate the role of technology and media in his or her life. How has our use of media affected our relationships with our family? With our friends? With strangers? Has our use of media and technology brought us into greater communion with others, or has it driven us apart? Emmy, over at Journey of a Catholic Nerd Writer, recently wrote an AMAZING blog post about this self-examination, which I encourage y’all to read.

Act like you are in control of the technology in your life, not vice-versa. There have been times in my life where I’ll hop on the internet because “I haven’t checked Facebook/e-mail/blog today,” or “in case someone drastically needs to contact me. And oh--I have to put up pictures!” Mmhmm. Pretty sure that checking Facebook, e-mail, or my Blogger is not a mandatory, daily event. Also, if anyone drastically needs me, they’ll probably not contact me via the internet. And I don't have a duty to anyone to post photos online the second a social event ends. 

Be present to the people around you. Many times at college, I would be working on my computer when people would approach me. Sometimes, I would be in the middle of something that I needed to finish, so I would try to graciously communicate that to them. But, if I wasn’t working on drastic schoolwork, I would close my computer screen part way so that I could see them eye-to-eye. This small action of closing my screen really helped me be present to others. The same goes with our phones. If someone starts talking with you, try putting away your phone, or at least flipping it over so that your eyes aren’t focused on the screen.

Limit your “technology time,” and learn a new activity. Learn to paint, crochet, knit, hunt, bake, cook, weld, woodburn, sculpt, do carpentry work, fish, study a new topic, learn a new dance, practice an instrument. There are plenty of DIY tutorials online, but there are also plenty more awesome books and people who can help you learn new things! One of my mom’s friends taught me how to knit, and it was a great way to grow closer to another person while learning a craft.

Read a book. I know this seems a bit cliché, but seriously. Read a good book. Go to a library and browse, searching for that awesome treasure. Or hunt around for a good ol’ classic. When I was in high school, I spent a good portion of each summer reading Shakespeare, and it was lots of fun! Everyone has time to read; even if you only have 10-20 minutes to read a day, do it! Put down that computer or phone, and let yourself dive into the pages of a book!

Make your technology time about glorifying God, not just automatically clicking through the internet. When going online, ask yourself: “How is this helping me in my vocation? How am I bringing glory to God through my actions? How is this helping me grow intellectually, creatively, as a human person?”

Write letters. Writing letters is wonderful, something that I love, and something that I’m really bad at doing. It takes time, energy, and pre-planning to write, address, and mail a letter. But it means so much to people, and it is a wonderful gesture of friendship. Plus, who doesn’t like receiving mail? If we all just cut out one Facebook or Twitter session a day and sent a letter, wouldn’t that be great?

Get to know people instead of just looking at their profiles. Again, I know how easy it is to click away on Facebook and “catch up” on peoples’ lives by looking at their profiles. But this isn’t really connecting us; it’s just partially satisfying my curiosity. Instead, send someone a letter, e-mail, or personal message. Schedule a coffee date with someone. Play games together. Go on a walk. Have good, deep conversations with people instead of scanning their online profiles. Honestly, one of the reasons why I love blogging is that it’s so deeply personal. Instead of just glancing at someone’s status updates or pictures, I’m being allowed the privilege of sharing in someone’s personal thoughts and reflections. Furthermore, I can comment or message them to continue a dialogue that builds actual communication. That’s pretty cool.

It’s late, so I should probably get to bed now. But I want to thank you all for reading my thoughts on this topic! Y’all are great, and it means a lot to me that others care to read what I think and say. Have a blessed start to your week!

“Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”

(~Pope Francis, “Laudato Si,” #47)

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