There but for the Grace…

Several of the blogs I follow have focused of late on technology – whether changing TV viewing habits because of a change in connectivity or lamenting the lost memory of a lost phone. And then there’s my friend who told his story of being at the gathering following a family funeral, and wanting to talk to some of the younger generation he had not been able to know, only to observe them quite incapable of simple conversation. They instead spent their time with busy thumbs, texting.

Meanwhile, I’ve been helping my new sister-in-law in Cameroon with an on-line course she is taking, by summarizing some of the articles on technology in the classroom that are related to her thesis topic. One of them refers to the physical changes in brain development which can be observed when children engage in a lot of “screen” time (TV and computers). Another addresses psychological issues which arise for children who, already uncomfortable with social interactions, choose to spend their time on social media sites and substitute Net “friends” for real life ones. A third spoke of the addictive nature of our relationship with computers and technological tools.

My first thought regarding the brain changes was – aha, perhaps that’s why there appears to be so much more ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children these days. More on that later. My second thought was of the boys at the funeral dinner, unable to have a conversation with my friend. My third, albeit more reluctant, thought was of my own changes in behavior noted since I acquired a “smart” phone about six months ago. Also, I see that I am affected by the fact that I work from home and am much more reliant than ever before on email for communicating with my coworkers.

I remember sitting in my office working on projects, able to have a receptionist answer my calls and a “do not disturb” sign on my door. In theory I can do the same now, by letting the phone take messages and resolutely not checking email… but it is remarkably hard to do that. Something about the isolation of working from a home office makes being available and responsive by phone and email seem more critical. Do I think my supervisor or manager will doubt my commitment to work, if she cannot get to me promptly? I know with my rational faculty that that’s not the case… but what about my emotional mind?

Pre-smartphone, I checked personal email only at the end of the day. Now I check it in ‘down’ moments throughout the day, moments that used to be spent on…? Thinking, reflecting, just being still within myself. Now it takes a conscious act of will to not pull the phone out in those small gaps in my busy day. I’m aware that I’ve lost an important sense of pacing, of quiet time. I’ve already begun making a conscious effort to ignore the existence of the ever-connected-to-the-Net phone, even to turn it off on occasion.

Given that I grew up without even a land line phone, and that I’ve lived for periods of my adult life without one, I am vividly aware of how one’s perspective changes with changes in connectivity. Not having a means to know when a partner’s change of plans would mean he would be 2-3 or more hours later coming home than expected was, once, just part of my mind set. I would not start to worry unless the time delay became excessive – 5 hours or more. Contrast that with now, when I may find myself feeling irritated if my call to my husband goes to voice mail, even though he is very good about replying to the indication of a missed call. I don’t actually need (or want?) instant connectivity, but I do see how addictive the concept can be.

Which brings me back around to hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. If brains are altered by computer interaction, are they also altered by the immediacy of response inherent to those interactions? Might this alteration account for the impatience, the jumping of attention from item to item that are the descriptors of ADHD?
Meditation is known to slow heart rate, improve concentration and provide a number of other health benefits. Meditation is the polar opposite of the connectivity inherent in current technology. It is a wise and talented individual who can achieve a balance between these two diverse tendencies.

Pre-smartphone, I read in the evenings. Lately I’ve been playing Scrabble against the computer, or Free Cell instead. I was shocked to realize recently that a lifelong habit of consuming at least a novel a week had come to a near standstill, replaced by engagement with games. My Scrabble skills have certainly improved, as I consistently beat the computer even when it is set on advanced or hard mode. Do I want to so far outstrip my Scrabble playing friends, that I’m not longer fun to engage with?

Fortunately my regular spiritual practice involves contemplation, so that I’m not totally bereft of the quiet, the relaxed mind, the disengaged and soothing energies which not only heal but inform, infuse with love and acceptance, and enable me to function in my daily life. Not so fortunately, I recognize that even well-armed with knowledge of the addictiveness of technological connectivity, I can succumb to that addiction. With lots of good reasons justifying my behavior, of course.

Except that nothing justifies losing the sense of peace and flow, the ease and pleasure of the only connection necessary for all others to be fulfilled. So I am taking back my quiet moments in the day, setting a schedule for checking work emails, and turning off the phone when I want to read. And I am thanking my Master for the insight, the instruction and the rescue, which seems to have come barely in time to save me from the pain and physical repercussions of severe addiction. All things in their proper time and place. By His Grace.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

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3 Responses to “There but for the Grace…”

  1. Ron Maltais Says:

    This entry was quite thought provoking. Believe it or not, yesterday was the day when I finally bought a cell phone after many years of procrastination. People have, up to now, looked at me with complete
    surprise when I wasn’t able to hand over a cell number. Truthfully, I reveled in my ability to resist the trends of the information and connectivity age. I kept thinking of Henry Thoreau and his winters spent in total self-imposed isolation on Walden pond, away from civilization as we have come to know it. I have visited Walden pond on numerous occasions, perhaps to connect with Thereau’s spirit. Young people would probably mock me for this, but I am glad to be an older gentleman for reasons young people probably wouldn’t understand.

    So, here I was in a Walmart, Wallgreens and then a Radio Shack yesterday trying to make sense of the dozens of options (smartphones, I-phones etc). I finally purchased a little Sprint flip-up phone with unlimited phone, text and internet access, all for $ 20 plus tax and a month of free service. What actually got me to the stores was a complete failure of my land line and internet services this week. Otherwise, I’d surely still be cell-phone free.

    As a teacher, I marvel at how the amazing access to information has not necessarily transformed students into more highly educated/ informed individuals. As I explain to them, just because more information is at your fingertips, that doesn’t mean that people make full use of it, or that they think deeply about what they are reading. I reminisce about the days when one had to go to a library to search through carefully made card catalogs to locate books, then find them on crammed shelves with the final step being to then search for a quiet place to spend several hours conducting intense research. That was my idea of heaven; another ritual I’d be ridiculed for today. But I wouldn’t care. Am I a Dinosaur? Probably.

    • chelawriter Says:

      There are many studies of how brain function is changing, brains developing differently because of new technology – and yes, there are losses in the process, but given the resurgence of interest in “vinyl” recordings (the records that you and I grew up with before 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs and MP3) one can hope that the joys of a books on paper library will also be rediscovered.

  2. Sharon Vander Meer Says:

    It’s really easy to get caught up in the treachery of technology. It takes an act of will to step back, reflect, and reengage. Reading is rewarding, writing is invigorating, and talking to people face-to-face is satisfying in ways “facebooking” will never be. Nice post.

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