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So, I’m talking with a friend and enjoying an engaging conversation when we’re rudely interrupted by her cell phone. She loses her attention after hearing a noise and pulls her phone out of her bag and reads the text that just came in. She replies, does something else on her phone while I sit and watch her. She looks up; that’s it. We don’t remember what we were talking about. The conversation is lost. This senario has repeated itself in my life for over six years as texting and multi-media phones have become more popularized.
I’ve done it too. I’ve begun to notice that anytime I hear a noise or a buzz I have this compulsion to check out what exactly it was on my phone. Was it a new twitter follower? Did someone respond to my Facebook post? Did I get a text?
Have you noticed little electronics take a large amount of attention than say…a book? I can be aware of my surroundings when reading a book and easily look up and engage in a conversation much more easily than when I’m absorbed in the phone.
Nicholas Carr, Pulitzer Prize winner for his book entitled The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, says, “ The problem today is not that we multitask. We’ve always multitasked. The problem is that we’re always in multitasking mode. The natural busyness of our lives is being amplified by the networked gadgets that constantly send us messages and alerts, bombard us with other bits of important and trivial information, and generally interrupt the train of our thought. The data barrage never lets up. As a result, we devote ever less time to the calmer, more attentive modes of thinking that have always given richness to our intellectual lives and our culture–the modes of thinking that involve concentration, contemplation, reflection, introspection. The less we practice these habits of mind, the more we risk losing them altogether.”
The late David Foster Wallace wrote the following in his famous commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, “Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come to gradually understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think it’s actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience of the everything-in-one cell phone with its own personal assistant Siri. I love new apps and the latest technology. I am so grateful for questions answered, directions when needed, ideas on demand, and more at just the touch of the screen. I do think that we’ve stopped thinking so much about others in real life so much that it often replaces good conversation, human interaction, smiles, and human touch.
For those in the LDS church this is becoming such a problem amongst the youth that the Mission Training Center (MTC: a center to prepare young men and young women to preach the gospel around the world) has begun having human interaction courses helping the youth of the texting age learn communication skills and how to understand body language and know when its appropriate to speak or to be silent and listen. These skills are being lost because in our society we’re quickly replacing electronic communication over human interaction.
I’m starting a revolution–to check the phone at the door when I am with a real life person. For centuries people had to wait with patience for their loved one to come home, or to respond to a letter or telegram, or to get to a pay phone to call. If my husband is to call me at a certain time, it is my responsibility to make sure I’m in a quiet place so I can be 100% there for him, or for whomever I plan to speak to. Everything really can wait. It’s amazing how we place top priority importance on the buzz of the phone to find its rarely, if ever, important. I’m breaking my unhealthy relationships to the unimportant minutia of daily life.
Deiter F. Uchtdorf wisely counseled, “One of the characteristics of modern life seems to be that we are moving at an ever-increasing rate, regardless of turbulence or obstacles.
Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.”
Let’s bring back the meaning in our lives and allow ourselves peace from the chains of technology. Let us enjoy and learn from the interactions with our family and friends. Let us enjoy learning the gospel in church, listen to nature at a park, or simply think quiet thoughts in a waiting room. When our lives run at a slower pace we will be less stressed and more centered and by extension…more happy.