Matt Brennan knows technology makes his life easier. But it also makes it easier for him to disengage with real life.
I have an addictive personality, and sometimes it scares me.
I think about this often when it comes to technology. It’s here to make our lives simpler. It makes it so easy to capture the moment. It makes it so easy to keep up with people who would otherwise be a fleeting memory in our lives. It makes it easier to run a business.
Anybody who doesn’t understand this can try going a day without their cell phone. The other day I left the house from 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. and forgot it at home. Every couple minutes I reached for my jeans pocket, only to find it bare.
I’ve come a long way since cell phones became common, and my guess is that you have too. I remember thinking more than a decade ago, that if I wanted to be reached by phone, I’d stay home. I didn’t want to be bothered with calls at random times while I was out with other people. It didn’t seem right to create that barrier with the people who you are with in the present. Those thoughts were discarded quickly, when you see how convenient it all became.
Today, there’s an app for everything, and we can’t do anything without our phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Parents today make a reflexive reach for their camera phone every time their kid does something cute. Now our parents took a lot of photos too, but they had to make a more conscious decision to find the camera. It wasn’t always in their pocket. I’ve found myself fighting that urge to always take a picture, so that I can simply enjoy my son’s smile right there in the moment. I’m sure that the remainder of parenthood will be full of photogenic moments, and there’s a place for capturing them.
But experiencing my son’s laugh and smile through a camera lens is not the same as experiencing it in person. I’m working to constantly remind myself to enjoy the present moment with my family, sans technology. My reflexive addiction to making sure that I stay connected and up to date on email has also impacted my marriage. During any lull in conversation both of us gravitate to our phones. It’s possible for us to be sitting in the same room yet in utterly different worlds.
This can be especially damaging during dates, dinners, or simple conversation. I wrote a post awhile back about how hard it can be to simply put down the phone during what used to be intimate moments. While my wife and I have made a little progress in that department, it’s a long road to perfect. Again, there’s a place and a time for staying connected. It’s up to us to know when that is, and when it isn’t.
I do have to say, I have the ultimate excuse. I run my own home-based freelance writing business. Clients do communicate via email at any hour that is convenient for them. They also have an expectation for a quick response. So I do everything I can to stay connected and get back with them on a timely manner. There are times when running my business is a good reason to have my phone out, and there are times when it is just a sorry excuse. Sometimes it gets in the way of what is in front of me.
The thing is that none of us are nearly as important as we think we are. If we separate ourselves from our personal technology for long periods of time, my guess is we’d all experience far fewer urgent communications than we’d expect.
All of this technology interrupts our agenda. During my workday I have a certain number of projects that need to be completed. When I answer emails or when I constantly check Facebook, I’m serving others’ agenda. The same thing is true when I’m with my family. Those moments in the presence of my wife and son should take precedence. Otherwise I’m not truly there.
It’s easier said than done to put down the phone, disconnect, and enjoy what is in front of you. While technology makes our lives simpler, it also makes it easier to disengage. Enjoy the convenience, but not at the expense of the world around you.