Last, we have the Facebook/texting/etc. short-attention span and what that does to our brains and our relationships. It’s all pretty obvious. We get used to tons of information flooded at us all day long from so many different places and so quickly that we lose the ability to really focus on things. Once we can’t focus on the information, what good is it to us? It fascinated me the first time I read that multi-taskers actually get less accomplished. I’m a huge multi-tasker. And I feel like nothing ever gets done. That is precisely because I don’t devote enough time and attention to each individual thing. Everything is done halfway or less. This is my brain on newsfeeds and Google searches and texting while typing while watching while talking while eating. And it can be a mess sometimes.
In addition, it creates problems for relationships. Relationships don’t work like newsfeeds. People don’t respond as efficiently as Google does. People are slower than computers and they’re more complex. So when your brain runs off computers it gets kind of impatient when it has to deal with people.
But obviously, relationships are what makes the world keep spinning. Relationships are what we live for. We would be slower without computers. But we might die—literally die—without human relationships. And yet, wouldn’t it be nice to have both?
Well, we can have both. Texting and messaging aren’t evil and they don’t have to ruin your social skills. People learned to affectively talk on the phone and still know how to talk in person. It’s just a new playing field and we have to learn the rules of the game. Here are the ones I, at least, try to abide by:
1. Don’t text or chat with someone you don’t feel comfortable talking to in person or on the phone. If you have already started a relationship through chat or text, quickly move to person or on the phone as soon as possible. If you don’t feel comfortable, get comfortable or end the relationship. There’s a problem.
2. Have a limit on your Facebook visits per day. Maybe it needs to be three, maybe two, maybe one. Maybe you need to make it once a week. Whatever it is, make it a rule. You only visit Facebook (or Instagram, Twitter, etc.) a set number of times (or less) per day. You can respond to specific urgent (how often is this really the case?) notifications if need be, outside your allotted time, but don’t just start browsing when you do this.
3. Plug your phone in two hours before you go to bed. That doesn’t mean disconnect entirely from the world. Have it accessible if someone calls you but don’t carry it around with you and don’t carry on text message conversations. Spend the time with your family and your house and nature and your pets and yourself. Ideally, tell your closest friends and family to call you on your home phone if they need you at night. If you don’t have a home phone anymore, like many of us, there is a nice little feature on many cell phones called “Do Not Disturb.” In it, you can pick a certain number of people who are allowed to reach you during certain hours. Put your closest friends and family on this list. And don’t worry- if someone who is not on the list has an emergency and needs you the call will go through if placed twice in a row.
4. Allot ten minutes of meditation/quiet/prayer time per day. Doesn’t matter when. Morning and night both have their separate benefits—if you can do both then great! But do it. Just sit and be quiet. Breathe deeply. Ask God to fill your heart with peace. Just ask over and over. Or if you’re not ready to ask God, just ask Peace itself. Set a timer so you don’t keep looking at the clock. Turn your phone off or on the “Do Not Disturb” feature. Don’t break this. It can literally make or break your day.
5. Cut off email communication and Internet research two hours before bedtime. Use your computer for movies and music but don’t keep yourself connected. Let your computer be something that keeps you present where you are and with the people you’re with rather than something that takes you away.
6. Have a Kindle or a book by your bedside. Read it. If your Kindle is on your phone, I sympathize. I know how ridiculously convenient that is. But it’s going to be difficult not to click on that text message scrolling above your classic literature. If it’s too much of a temptation for you, you’re going to have to find another solution or develop some serious willpower!
7. Try every day to exert your creative energy. Maybe that’s playing music, drawing, writing. Maybe you feel like you’re terribly uncreative. But find some way to exert whatever creativity you have or challenge yourself to learn a new skill.
8. And finally- this last one’s a no-brainer and yet we all seem to break it. Don’t text/browse/tweet/post while in the midst of others’ company. If you are all on your devices and it has been clearly stated that this is separate device catching up time, fine. But not at dinner. Not at lunch. Not at breakfast. Not when one is connected and one is not. Not when you see the other person doing it so you figure they don’t care if you do (I’m extremely guilty of this!) Just because you’re not hurting each others’ feelings (and don’t be so sure about that!) doesn’t mean you’re not developing a bad habit. So just don’t do it. Put your phone in your pocket. If it vibrates once, it was probably something that can wait. If it’s a call, go to the bathroom and check when there’s a break in the conversation. If it’s a double call, say, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to check this.” You get it. Be present when you’re in the presence of humans.
In the end, it all still comes down to self-discipline. It comes down to intentional use. It comes down to recognizing that something can simultaneously be full of potential and full of danger. There is such a tendency among us to demonize technology or to cling desperately to it. Both are weak approaches. If we are strong, we may find that Facebook and the like can actually enrich our lives and our relationships. But we have to take control of ourselves in order to be in control of them and how they affect us.