My friend, Shelly Wildman, has a blog I subscribe to and very much enjoy. Here is her latest post, entitled Digitally Distracted which coincides with an experience and conversation I have been having as a result of being in Wheaton for the last couple of days.
Without admitting the embarrassing number of electronic devices we have between the seven of us, suffice it to say each of is well-endowed with multiple opportunities to plug in any old time we want. I think it’s excessive, myself. I’ve wrestled with the “generation gap” between what my generation thinks about electronics and what my kids’ generation thinks. Clearly, for this younger generation, normal everyday life includes a cellphone, computer, and music generator of some sort at hand, and with more than one item in use. As far as I can tell, they have no idea what it really means to unplug, to be unconnected digitally to their friends and to enjoy the wonders of silence. (No offense intended to my offspring.)
My rationale for being plugged in all the time, at least to my phone, is that I am often apart from one or more of the kids, and the expectation from schools, etc., these days is that parents are accessible. As Greg is on the road so often, i feel it is important to be the available parent. Besides the schools, I think it is important to be accessible to my kids when I am away. There are a select few times when they know they cannot reach me by phone, but those times are few and far between. More than one of my kids has texted me late at night, and at this point, I recognize that I want to be available to opportunities to communicate with them. Having my phone along all the time enhances this communication.
While in Wheaton, though, I found myself in a couple of places where I absolutely did not want to disrupt anyone’s experience, so I turned my phone to silent, which was a drastic step for me. I almost always leave it on vibrate, but in this particular setting, I didn’t even want that noise to occur. During that meeting, I received a phone call from my daughter, 350 miles away, in charge of my young son. While I surreptitiously texted her, she called again. Then she called Greg. This is completely understandable, as she knows that I often miss calls, even though I am trying to be available. She received my text and we were able to work out the problem. But during the time I was texting, I missed what was happening in the meeting. I was digitally distracted.
Normally, I consider myself pretty able to text or talk and do other activities at the same time. I wonder if that is because some of the activities I do are not particularly compelling or meaningful. The meeting I was in was both meaningful and compelling, and it was good to notice how much I missed by attending to something else.
While in chapel at Wheaton yesterday, I again put my phone on silent and just checked it periodically in case one of the kids had texted or called, but I did not text at all during the service. Truthfully, at my own church on any given Sunday, I often use my phone for non-service related activities. Our church auditorium is dark, like a theater, but they condone use of phones and iPads during the service since many people do use their phones to access their electronic Bible or take notes on the service. At our church, sometimes there’s even something worth taking a picture of.
I think what I learned is that I want to be sufficiently engaged where I am so that my phone stays in my purse. I’m recognizing that failing to engage with what I am doing short-changes me and whoever I am with. I do so much waiting every week, at this appointment and that, that my phone is a welcome companion during those times. But, again, for me, it’s time to consider what these digital distractions are taking the place of.
I dare say the example I am setting has been caught by my kids, regardless of whatever I may have taught. Sometimes the prospect of figuring out the path I need to take, as well as figuring out the parenting piece of it, can be a bit daunting. That’s why I love having resources such as Shelly’s blog, which address the parenting piece of it as well.
What about you? Do you have anyone who is dependent on you? What do you think about being unavailable to them at times?