Fully plugged-in; or tuned out?

23 Dec

Beaded ipod headphones We had some animated complaints regarding changing social patterns during a recent study and discussion on God’s Technology. Someone commented on travelling a large distance to see some relatives “and all they did was sit on their laptops the whole time!”

Now, the geek in me just can’t help smiling a little. I mean, what is cooler than texting a private joke to your friend across the room? Having a little wink to relieve the boredom while sitting in impeccably polite silence. (Americans: its a Scottish thing!)

This gets old.

Do I have a problem with texting? No. Laptops? No. Ipods? No.

So what am I getting at?

Well, let me suggest a few ways that I have managed to upset people in my life:

  • Disappear for significant and solid chunks of a day/evening to “do stuff on the computer”.
  • Wear headphones while talking to someone.
  • Have a distant vacant stare as you mentally plan your next facebook status or twitter post
  • Respond instantly to an alert on phone/text/IM/etc
  • Look at your screen/ phone/ scroll through songs as you talk to someone.

I am not providing these as a list of Dont’s. That is demoralising and missing the point. It is not just black-and-white. There is a time and a season for different activities, and different choices about how time is spent.

But these situations demonstrate an aspect in common. There are other people in your life, who are spending their own precious time in your company and in your life.

They deserve some respect.

As I realised the impact on others, I have gradually begun to do less and less of the activities I mentioned above (well, I try!).  There are some underlying principles that have helped me rationalise why this is important:

  • Are you honouring the other person by your actions?

Example: Even if you switch off your music to reply to your Mum, having the headphones still on your head makes her not sure if you’ve heard what she said. It is frustrating for you when she repeats; and embarrassing for her when she doesn’t. Letting your body language show you have heard her is a way to demonstrate that you respect what she has to say.

  • Are you paying attention to the other person?

If you only half-listen without focusing on what she is saying, you stand a good chance of missing an important aspect of what she is saying.

  • Do you respond with your headspace in the real world?  Sometimes you just need to be there.

Example: If you are setting the table for your Mum, probability is, she needs to drip-feed you the next instruction every 1-2mins. That means an ongoing dialog with pauses. Not a song with Mum-overlays.

(Note to childhood self: remember the drip-feeding is because she is planning and deciding as she thinks, *not* because she’s trying to make life difficult for me.)

  • Are you communicating your social availability by your behaviours? I.e. Do you ever deliberately use the distraction to retreat from a social interaction?

Example: Using some entertainment to tune out for a while to give yourself a break. This isn’t neccessarily wrong, provided you send a clear message. If you need quiet alone time to recharge, you need to say so.

If you just “go online” same as you do other days when you do want to chat and share, it doesn’t help the people around you know when you’re open to interaction, or when you just need a little time to yourself.

None of these challenges are new with the advent of technology. It is the particular blend of pervasiveness, variety, time drains and concentration-engaging aspects of technology that come together to make these issues a daily dilemma. A bad habit.

So, in summary, my encouragement to you:

“Remember to love the people in your life more than your dearest technology.”


Posted by on Friday, December 23, 2011 in discipline


2 responses to “Fully plugged-in; or tuned out?

  1. Anonymous

    Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Hi Rachel, just found your blog via James on FB. Interesting post. We have a lot of technology and children (currently six teens) here, so we’ve had a few discussions as to what is appropriate. I personally prefer to talk to someone who has at least one headphone/earphone out. And I’d perfer they weren’t texting while listening; grin, but it is never that simple. I am very thankful for modern technology and my online friends/family.

    Glad to have found your blog
    Henrietta x

  2. Rachel

    Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks for your empirical feedback, Henrietta!


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