The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Technology on My Terms

I talk a lot on this blog about how technology shapes our lives and our world. So how do I limit its influence in my own life?

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Community Filter. I described Jewish, Amish, Muslim, and Anglican communities that function as filters for the individuals within it. I also found fault in Evangelicalism’s laissez-faire attitude toward technology that left its adherents to fend for themselves. Today, I want to offer up a few personal filters I’ve placed in my own life.

Without any strong-tie community leaders to rely on, I’ve had to blaze my own trail toward “limited adoption” of and “intentional engagement” with technology. I admit that my filters are humble compared to those of the Amish, Jewish, and Muslim communities, but I feel confident that they are worthy filters.

Cell phones. First, I silence the ringer on my smartphone almost all the time, and I never leave it on vibrate. Unless I’m specifically expecting a call, I silence my phone. Doing this makes for one less distraction that will likely remove me from being present to people and things around me. My thinking is, “The person I’m with is more important than the person I’m not.” In an increasingly impersonal world, if someone has made an effort to hang out with me, I want return the favor by giving them my complete presence. It expresses value and gratitude.

Ideally, I would love an app that rings/vibartes for certain phone numbers and silences everything else.

Television. At home, I have no access to network television or cable. The only option I have for watching TV is to pop in a DVD. I can’t simply flip the TV on when I get home and veg out. I actively choose to put in a DVD and veg out. For DVDs, I have my roommate’s extensive collection, Redbox, my local library, and Netflix’s 5-dollar-a-month plan. These sources are enough for me. I make a conscious decision about what I will watch, instead of “seeing what’s on.” It puts me in control. It makes technology a decision instead of a reflex. When technology becomes a reflex, it becomes an environment.

Living space. I’ve very consciously arranged my living space to deemphasize the TV set. In fact, I have a couch backing up against the TV, facing away from it. My two couches face each other. This arrangement makes people more likely to have a conversation. They don’t have to turn at awkward angles to look at each other. They’re not sideways on the couch or anything. They are face to face and comfortable.

Contrast this with most homes you walk into: All the furniture is oriented around the TV. At my place, I have people come over who don’t even notice the TV set. I’ve been out with friends who can’t remember where my TV set is. The layout itself expresses my values.

Facebook. Why do I create artificial barriers like these? I’ve found that the higher the threshold is, the less likely I am to cross it. For example, Facebook is a regular time-waster in my life. I doubt I’m alone in this. I’ve decided to not “Keep me signed in.” Facebook has my username, but I have to enter my password every time I log in. This threshold forces me to pause just long enough to consider whether I really need to check Facebook. Another way to accomplish the same goal would be to remove Facebook (or any given site) from your Favorites Menu or Quick Links bar so that you have to type the URL in each time.

Each of these practices—the silenced cell phone, the limited TV access, the living room layout, the Facebook Login—is a conscious decision. Sometimes managing a technology doesn’t mean eliminating it. It can simply be the conscious decision to put a barrier around it. I call this “limited adoption.” The threshold reinforces your values and every time you cross it, you’re also reminded of your values. Putting in a DVD, signing into Facebook, forgetting about my phone for hours on end—all these practices remind me what I value. And they make me look for other areas where I can follow my values too.