Choose to be present today

I’m taking the week off to unplug a bit and recharge with the family. I decided to write one post before we leave on our staycation. A few months ago, I was in Korea visiting family, doing some speaking, and introducing my oldest son to Korea. (It was his first time there.) I had been there the year before on the tail end of a mission trip, but it never ceases to amaze me how much the country seems to change from year to year. Some things are still the same – good and cheap food, expensive coffee drinks, smooth and easy public transportation, etc. I did notice, however, one major change – the influence of mobile technology.
Everywhere I went, people were staring at small screens, headphones plugged in, either texting, watching, reading, or otherwise being distracted. On all the subway cars were little signal boosters intensifying the wifi signal. I felt like I was surrounded in a web of millions of little data signals with people strewn about like little flies waiting to be devoured. I even had several conversations with pastors during my trip listening as they bemoaned the impact of mobile technology on family life and relationships (they then proceeded to check their emails and update a tweet about the conversation.)
I myself am not immune to this. The other day I was driving, and I realized that I was looking at my phone checking a twitter feed. In a moment of divine clarity, I chastised myself for putting my life and others in danger over something that I could do 10 minutes from now. I have the habitual tendency to look at my phone whenever I feel socially uncomfortable or feel exposed. It seems that I resort to my phone whenever I’m waiting for someone to show up at a meeting or when I step into an elevator. Funny how I suddenly panic about an email or status update when I am in a room full of strangers.
I think the most tragic part of our addiction to our connectivity is that we are losing the ability to truly connect with one another in the moment. We are so busy trying to capture the moment on Instagram or Facebook that we can actually miss the moment en vivo. At least we’ll have it as a memory, right? But have you ever noticed what happens to memories? They fade even if they’re played back at 41 megapixels or 1080p quality video.
I wonder how much of what God is doing around us and in us do we miss because we’re too busy trying to capture it? Does my phone or tablet create a buffer for me, actually insulating myself from that hope-giving conversation God wants me to have? From even seeing the need of someone right next to me?
It’s a scary thought to think that the very technology that can be such a ministry tool could be the very obstacle to it as well. Thus, I’m taking the week to unplug. I want to control my technology, not the other way around. If you’re a mobile junkie like me, think about how to stay present with the people you love and the people God wants you to meet. Here’s some ideas.
1. No email or social media before 9:00. Resist the urge (and it will be difficult) to roll out of bed, grab your phone, and check something. The fact that this will be the most difficult thing to do might be the most severe indication that your technology controls you. You can also plug your phone in to charge each night in the kitchen. This will keep you from reflexively reaching for your phone.
2. Leave your phone in the car. When I go on a date with my wife, I’ve made it known to her that I’m leaving my phone in the car. I want to be present with her, to hang on her every word. I don’t want to farm out my time with 10 other people and give her the moments in between.
3. If you’re constantly getting distracted from work while on the computer, try programs like Freedom or Anti-Social. They are great Internet blockers that block out your connection for a set amount of time that you determine. I can turn it on, set it for up to 480 minutes and churn out a sermon. It’s fantastic.
4. Don’t worry about capturing the video/photo. Some things are best left in the imagination and recreation of your mind. Besides, how many times have you really gone back and looked through the catalogs of videos and pics on your phone. Let’s be honest – you only look through them when you want to be distracted in an uncomfortable or moment of boredom…leading to even more distraction.
5. Lights out. Phone out. No “light” reading in bed. I need to work on this – when it’s time for bed. It’s time for bed. Media tends to mute those gentle moments and whispered conversations just before my wife and I drift off into sleep.
I’d be interested to know. What tips/tactics do you use to control your mobile leash? Leave a comment below. Let’s create a community cookbook on how to be present today.
Next week I’ll talk about a spiritual discipline that can help us be more present with people.

6 thoughts on “Choose to be present today”

  1. I think dementia makes me leave my phone and annoy my family when they try to get ahold of me! :)) I will try and implement the 9:00 am rule and take baby steps. Thanks for your post, I truly agree and am truly guilty of some of it!

  2. We have a new porch on the back of our house. In the evenings, especially, we like to sit out there and relax, sometimes in front of a fire when it’s chilly. I don’t bring my electronics out, I just think its nice to sit, listen to the world go by, hear the sounds of nature, and watch the fire and talk. I’d really like to make it a rule 😉 so that everyone else would have to do the same.

  3. We are experimenting with instituting a “technology Sabbath” each week. As of now it is during the week, so we are using the computer for work related things, but not social media. I am realizing how addicted to screen time I am. During the day I find myself making up excuses to look up this or research that. However, I have loved the evenings. We tend to play games, talk more, and just enjoy each other’s company.

  4. Thought provoking! For all our connectivity are we really more connected or perhaps more distracted and fragmented? Great ideas, Mitchel on how to leash technology in to its proper place as a tool and not allow it to become the master. I remind myself that Techno Busy-ness or any kind of busy-ness isn’t a barometer of character, growth, or worth. I love your idea of leaving your phone in the car and giving your wife undivided attention during a date. Turning off the media reminds me that I am not the center. Being present is a wonderful gift for those around us. Enjoy your time away!

  5. Great observations and suggestions for keeping our lives “techno-balanced”! I’ve only had an iPhone for several months, but, find that I check my phone much too often when I hear the text sound. I should be savoring the precious moments of life around me. 🙂
    Enjoy your family time, Mitchel!

  6. Pingback: The Art of Being Fully Present | Echoes of the Myth

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