Technology, Relationships, and the Myth of Multi-tasking

This is a re-post from another blog that I host. It’s a follow up to my post “The Best Accident” from last February. The few months I spent without a smart phone this winter/spring were very peaceful and I found that I did not miss it. We moved to a new place and I again have a smart phone. This post is a reflection on setting boundaries so that our technology does not take over our lives.

We women like to flatter ourselves that we are natural “Multi-taskers.” I suppose it is a convenient notion that may help us feel more capable of juggling the many balls we try to keep in the air between family, work and community responsibilities.

However, women don’t seem to be the only ones convinced of some special multi-tasking ability. Today’s fast-paced and hyper-connected world makes overlapping demands on everyone’s attention. And with the advent of smart devices so small they can fit on a watch we have come to feel confident that we can keep tabs on everything at once and not miss out.

Unfortunately, both science and intuition tell us this is false.

Neuroscientist and MIT professor Earl Miller tells us: “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves…The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
Miller says that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.
“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not. You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.” *

Are these statements a revelation to anybody out there? I would expect not. When I read this article, it rang true because of the evidence of this that I see in my life. Technology and media seem to have done a particularly good job of convincing us that we CAN mulit-task; that we can be constantly plugged-in and still fulfill all our obligations, build and maintain healthy relationships, and cultivate inner-peace. If you contemplate the following scenarios with me I think you agree that this simply is not so.

Think about the last time you cruised Instagram, ESPN or Pinterest while your spouse was telling you about their project at work or something that had upset them that day. Did you catch much of what they said or what it meant for them and for you? We may be good at letting out an occasional “mmm hmmm,” or “Wow” or “really?” to convince ourselves and those around us that we are truly engaged with them. But are we? Or are we “deluding” ourselves?

Do I complain about not having enough time with my husband and then find myself hanging with technology and online updates while sitting next to him instead of really connecting with one another once are kids are finally in bed?

Do you or I ever scroll through a newsfeed when talking on the phone with somebody? What kind of jerk-move is that anyways?! Somebody takes the time to call me (in a world where no one calls anymore) because they want to connect. Yet I just have to fulfill that jittery desire to do two things at once–to have my finger on two pulses. Who am I helping here? Does my newsfeed really need the listening ear more than my friend does? And do I need that connection to a world of superficial “friendships” more than I need my real-life connection to a good friend?

Am I a stay-at-home mom in body only if I am constantly disrupting interactions with my precious children by checking up on every ping from my phone? Or am I checking out and getting lost online when they need my attention and connection with them? If I am not devoting my mind and attention to these little beings, why stay home under that pretense?

And do I truly feel relaxed or fulfilled when I hop online at the end of a long day to “unwind” through mindlessly scrolling? Would my soul be more satisfied by spending time alone with myself? Might my inner-self benefit through meditating, reading a book, or exerting some of my restless energy in a creative outlet?

These questions are not intended to provoke feelings of guilt, only to help us all reflect on the unnoticed ways our technology use may be fraying our relationships with ourselves and with others. So often technology seems an inseparable part of our lives. I am not advocating a complete, ascetic type denial of all things that come with screens. What I am advocating is greater awareness, balance, and separation at needed intervals so that we can connect with ourselves and with those around us and find joy in our lives.

I expect that most of us want to focus more of our energy on our relationships offline than we do online. We know that is the better investment. But how do we get there? How do we change our habits?

Firstly, we must honestly acknowledge where we need to improve. We all know what those areas are–but they make us a bit uncomfy. So we ignore the nudges we feel or drown out the nagging voice that is telling us when and how to unplug and reconnect. Start listening to that voice. Examine your habits and commit to making a positive change. Start with small changes and build on the positive habits you are establishing.

If you are looking for a starting place in an effort to “unplug”, here are some suggestions of things that have worked well in our family to keep things better balanced:

Designate an hour at which you will unplug from all media and do something truly fulfilling or relaxing. My husband and I have made the hour before bed-time media free and have noticed huge benefits individually and as a couple. I also recommend starting the day unplugged. I have found I am much more energized throughout the day when I start my day in meditation, reading, or exercise rather than plunging directly into the whirlpool waiting for me on my phone or laptop.

Make mealtimes nourishing by unplugging. Studies show that sharing meals with others is a powerfully connective and nourishing experience for us humans. Connecting with one another at mealtimes builds trust, confidence, and community among those who share the table. If you are eating alone, take the opportunity to connect with yourself by putting away distractions and allowing your thoughts to rest and to blossom. Although it can be challenging at first to turn off the TV and not check your phone during meals, you will notice a positive difference in yourself and in your relationships.

Silence your phone and check it at regular (not constant) intervals during the day. This has helped me to engage fully with my life and to feel a great deal of joy by doing so. I am less distracted and fragmented and have found that I have more mental/emotional capacity available to offer my children.

Leave the phone in the car (or at least silence it) when you are out with friends or family. Show your loved ones that they come first and that you are more eager to hear what comes out of their mouths during your time together than what a politician tweets or an acquaintance posts.

Making changes to live more fully offline than online feels quite counter-culture nowadays. But you will not be alone if you take on the project. Growing numbers of people are feeling dissatisfied with a life where attentive face-to-face relationships and inner peace are being exchanged for new hardware and better apps. You will find that your efforts will be rewarded and that once you start to intentionally unplug, your soul will feel hungry for more and more time to yourself. If it feels hard to make changes or if you wonder if it is worth it, just remember this–your phone will likely be dead in two years. Your relationships (with both yourself and others) will last forever. Where, then, do you want to invest the energies of your soul?
How have you set personal boundaries to allow you to have healthy relationships with technology and to maintain your face-to-face relationships? What are the challenges of attempting to unplug and do you have any tips for others seeking to do the same?

*Quotes are taken from “Think You’re Multi-tasking? Think Again” by Jon Hamilton, NPR news
Find the full article at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794

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Mawwwage

In the immortal words from the Princess Bride, “Mawwage is what bwings us togevvah today”.

 

This weekend we celebrated our fifth anniversary and all week I have been reflecting on the shaping influence my marriage has been on me as an individual and on my life generally. I’ve been specifically impressed with how astoundingly powerful the marriage relationship can be. How is it possible that two individuals, united in marriage, can become so much more than they were separately? It seems obvious that the result of many such unions is much more than the sum of the parts. I know with a visceral certainty that in the short years my husband and I have had together so far, I have grown, deepened and developed in ways that I would not have been capable of on my own.

 

Anyone who is or has been married knows that marriage is a lot of hard work. It’s not all roses and romance. And happy families don’t just “happen.” However, the very differences that often seem to make marriage challenging, allow us to stretch ourselves and to let go of control. Living life so intimately intertwined with another person who is so vastly different from oneself, allows one the opportunity to step up and be the better person. We all have that person inside of us, but we too often allow them to lie dormant. Sacrifice, compromise, loyalty and forgiveness–these all require that person to come forth, to leave the indulgent shadows of comfort and selfishness and to show true commitment, true compassion, true companionship. Hard times and challenges have the ability to bind husband and wife together as we cling to one another and work through difficulties together, striving to be patient and to withhold judgement.

 

Building a strong marriage and family is the most rigorous and important endeavor I will ever engage in. I think we all know that is true, both for us as individuals and for society at large. Despite the challenges and bumps in the process, we all know that the joys found in family life far surpass any other.

 

These lyrics have been rolling around and around in my head this week. They are the words to a song I wrote for my husband and played for him on our wedding day, marking the start of our life’s journey together. I never expected to share this publicly, as it feels like such a chunk of my heart. But I feel a need to share it here. It’s not the same without music and perhaps the rhyming feels out of place outside of a folk song, but I hope the words resonate with you and what you feel is most important in life.

has destiny been too good to me?
or are you too good to be true?
I know you’re real from the truth I feel
and my heart, it aches to be close to you.

and when you treat me gently
and when you love me soft
I remember the words about eternity
and mighty kings and queens
and when I stand next to you
I know I’m safe right here
I want to do my part,
do my part.

you dance me ‘til
I’m just bones and chills
in the kitchen still, though it’s time to sleep
do you know the thrill that your words instill?
you’ll keep your promises, I know you will

and when you stand so firm and tall
and when you lead my certain heart,
I remember the words about eternity
and mighty kings and queens
and when I stand next to you
I know I’m safe right here
I want to do my part
do my part.

as the moon pulls the tide
as a moth seeks the light
you draw me close to you,
I feel whole by your side.
your soul’s so bright
it in me ignites a burning flame
as our two lives collide.

and when you treat me gently
and when you love me soft,
I remember the words about eternity
and mighty kings and queens
and when I stand next to you
I know I’m safe right here, I want to do my part
do my part.

I love you, yes I do
I love you, yes I do
I love you, yes I do
and each day eternity is new.

The Best Accident

iStock_000038914398_Large

Hey guys, the strangest thing happened to me this week. Strange and wonderful. I know that to many of you this may sound irrational or even heretical. But here it is: I have renounced my smart phone. At least for the time being. Before you rush off to find me a psychiatrist, please let me explain.
It happened last Saturday. The stage was set for me to accomplish a ton of housework in one afternoon. My three year old was down for a rare nap and my one year old was feeling particularly cooperative (or so it seemed.) I laundry-ed, cleaned bathrooms, picked up and vacuumed, tackled the kitchen and then set out to mop. I was feeling a bit on top of the world, because, if you know me well, you know that it’s not every day that my house gets such an extensive spa treatment. I had my iPhone out and I was listening to an audio book as I worked. My little cleaning companion had been busying herself in the kitchen with me, and had dropped a couple scraps of paper into the mop bucket, just to see what would happen to them.

Mid-mop job I looked over at her from across our tiny kitchen and noticed something that stopped me dead in my tracks. She was standing casually with both hands in her floral sweatsuit pockets, grinning her cherubic grin. I was overcome with parental euphoria—you know, that completely saturating feeling and surety that you are looking at the most adorable creature in the universe.
I fumbled around for my phone so I could capture this darling moment before it was gone. “Where is my phone?” I asked myself. I could hear the audiobook narrator clear as day and had sworn I had put it on the kitchen counter. That was when the little cherub started saying “uh-oh” and pointing at the mop bucket.

No. Way.

With grave and anxious anticipation, I approached the bucket, as if approaching a corpse. I solemnly reached my hand into the murky water and immediately felt the familiar shape, the round-edged rectangle of my otter box case. “No, no, no!” I cried. My daughter looked mystified. And immediately I felt like Mr. Parker, the father from “A Christmas Story.” He comes home from work to find his precious “major award,” the iconic leg lamp, has fallen to its death. I recall the scene perfectly. You know the one—

Mr: “You were always jealous of this lamp.”
Mrs: “Jealous of a plastic…?”
Mr: “Jealous! Jealous because I WON.”

I am really not certain if Clara’s act of destruction was out of jealousy or simply experimentation. But I do know this: she has always been jealous of that phone. Not because I won, but because the phone won, time after time after time.

I became aware early on that using my phone around them provoked feelings of jealousy in my children. It first surfaced when my boy was quite young. It is no surprise. Have you ever been around someone that you are very interested in conversing or interacting with who is glued to their phone? It can be incredibly frustrating, even for adults who can so much better understand relationship dynamics. Imagine how difficult it must be for children to figure out their place in the family when they feel they are in constant competition with their touch screen sibling? It is not surprising that there are several studies based around this very phenomenon, and they show that what some scholars refer to as “techno-ference” can be quite damaging to parent/child relationships and can be damaging also to a child’s development.

My son was about the same age that my daughter is now when he threw my iPhone in the toilet. The phone could not be resuscitated. I was surprised at how devastated I felt. How was I going to live fully without that great camera at my fingertips, a calendar that feels like a personal secretary, and a whole world of internet information just one tap away? So after a few weeks on an old standard phone we forked out the change and replaced the iPhone. Ahhh, it felt good to be back to the sleek operating system and the phone that can practically cook your breakfast for you.

However, I continued to feel uncomfortable with several of the faces of my device. I was aware that my usage of it was interfering with my ability to be fully engaged with my kids. So I set boundaries for myself. I tried keeping it on the dresser in my bedroom during the day and only checking it periodically, I turned off all notifications (with the exception of my calendar), I turned off the ringer so I wouldn’t be interrupted. Perhaps for most people, this would be enough to help them keep their phone out of their family relationships. But for me, it wasn’t. You see, the problem wasn’t how much time I was spending on it, or what I was doing on it. It had become a problem of my heart–somehow my phone had managed to embed itself there. I desired it. I wondered about it in the back of my mind when I was “being good” and not using it during active mommy hours. And despite all my best efforts and intentions to be “present” when I was with my family, I disappointed myself.

Often, in exhaustion at the end of the day, I would hop onto my phone and scroll, scroll, scroll. Man, did it feel wretched. But the hold was so powerful. And so sedative. I would sometimes ask my husband to help me out but if he would try to take the phone out of my hands, my Gollum eyes would pop out of my head and all of a sudden I would be stroking the iPhone and crying, “MINE! My preeecccioouussss…” Ok, not really. But looking back, it kind of felt like that. My phone had become Tolkein’s “one ring.” The ring that brought me and bound me. The ring that controlled some aspect of my heart and made me prisoner to it.

On some level I was aware of all of this and I jabbed at the problem without success. I was weak and I wanted it (or thought I wanted it) too bad to do what I knew I needed to do. And so my small, innocent, and helpful daughter had to do it. She carried it to its doom and dropped it in that bucket of murky, unforgiving water.

The day the accident happened was a busy day with two rounds of company coming and all the other weekend busy-ness. I did not have time to do anything besides inter my dead phone in a bowl of dry rice and hope by some miracle it would resurrect. And then something unexpected happened. With the phone resting in peace in its rice-y tomb, I was suddenly free. I felt a weight lifted. I felt my full self again—fully capable of focusing on a person, a moment, a task without that nagging tension in the back of my mind: the siren voices of my inbox, newsfeed, and easy access internet browser.

The day my iPhone died, I plopped it in a bowl of rice, assumed we would replace it soon if it didn’t make it, and moved on with my day. But by the end of the night I already knew. I knew I would not be replacing my phone. I knew that this was the missing piece, this was my liberation from a pattern that had taken a harmful toll on me. In the days since then I have felt more fully my own and more satisfied with my good and simple life. And so, I’ve decided to renounce the smart phone and am using an old, somewhat pathetic standard phone. It has been frustrating to use at times, and I miss some of the conveniences of my iPhone. But I am really loving my minutes and hours as a wife and a mother less distracted. For me and my family right now, downgrading to a dumb phone has been a smart thing to do.

What methods have you found helpful in keeping your technology use in balance? Would love to hear more ideas!

heart-shaped cereal

heart-shaped cereal

 

Last night I cradled your fevered body
and nursed you through that fitful darkness
hoping you might rest.

In the morning we rose
and shook off our fuzzy slumber
as we bathed your drenched and tired body.

And then we sat together on that dark leather couch
and you fed me heart-shaped cereal
pinched between your chubby forefinger and thumb.

As each heart was placed in my open mouth
a look of joy and satisfaction stole across your face.

And the moment became a sacrament.

Jackson Pollock in my kitchen

At certain times of day
the tile floor in my kitchen becomes a collage
a veritable masterpiece of texture and color.
Splattered applesauce, smashed blueberries and drips of marinara
somehow come together in a random, yet cohesive, arrangement.

At such times of day I am inclined to feel impatient
or to resign myself to apathy.
What is the point of cleaning up, anyways
when I know I will discover a new composition within hours
done in the next meal’s medium.

Perhaps I ought to take a step back
to appreciate this creation
flowing naturally, as it does, from Childhood–
which is in itself the ultimate
in abstract expressionism.

I pause now to examine the artist
who sits, majestically enthroned
on his booster seat
the little king of his little world
his whole life stretched out in front of him.

As I lift my gaze from the mess to the meaning
I am filled with awe and admiration.
Yes, he is the true masterpiece in the making.
I am watching him become,
enjoying the discovery of him
layer by layer
and day by day.

“You’re missing it”

“You’re missing it” the words said.

It was as they were if spoken to me audibly yet I knew they were not communicated through speech. I paused what I was doing– cleaning up the mess in the kitchen from preparing another meal. I looked up to see my two young children laughing together. Henry was leaning out of his highchair and reaching towards Clara. He was giddy with love and excitement. Clara was standing in her exer-saucer and reaching towards Henry while laughing hysterically. Their hands were close to touching but they couldn’t quite make it and they found it absolutely hilarious. I burst into laughter, overjoyed to see them playing together and loving their simple life.

The next day I heard the words again. Clear as day – – “You’re missing it.” I was frantically cleaning my house in preparation for guests. It was an undertaking that had consumed most of my day and if I’m honest with myself I admit that I have not really played with my children. Eight-month-old Clara was entertaining herself on the floor in her charming and self-contented way. I paused what I was doing. A big part of me, the efficient, task-oriented part, wanted to continue my project and check off the things on my list. “She is so young,” I thought, “she seems happy playing on the floor, she is probably okay.” But the words “you’re missing it” came to my mind again, so I stopped and sat down on the floor to play with her. She was utterly delighted to receive my full attention and began to grin madly and jump and wiggle with excitement. “Wow,” I thought, “I must not do this often enough.” Between chasing my energetic toddler and running our home with a husband who’s in school, this baby has not received the lion’s share of the attention. After playing together for a few minutes, doing something she wanted to do, I felt much more connected to her and more satisfied with my job being her mom.

“You’re missing it.” I was entering my password to log onto Facebook. I thought I would check my messages to see if a friend had replied. After all, both kids were napping – – and this was my time, right? My daughter had just fallen asleep in my arms with her face hidden under a blanket, to shield her from the light in the room. Although she has been asleep for several minutes, I had not yet paused to look at her peaceful face. Putting down my phone and turning towards here, I kissed the soft squishy hand that had made its way out from under the blanket and gently touched the dimple on each of her knuckles. Then I lifted the blanket and gazed at her cherubic face. A flood of love and connectedness rushed into my heart and seemed to fill my whole being. I wrapped one hand around the crown of her head, slipped the other arm under her body and cradled my infant in a protective embrace. “I would do anything for this child,” I thought. Recalling the difficult pregnancy and labor that I went through to bring her to this world, I felt sure that I would do it all again. I felt that familiar desire, to fight off anything that would seek to harm her. “This girl,” I thought, “Is the treasure of my heart.”

Those words were repeated several times to me over the course of a few days. You may call the voice my conscience or intuition. Or perhaps you call it inspiration or a spiritual impression from God. Whatever you call that voice, it feels to me like an advocate and a friend. That soft and gentle prodding reminded me this week how vital it is that I stop and experience motherhood fully, that I live in the present.

The weeks go by so fast, and it seems that my kids are changing every time I look at them. Before I know it they will be gone from my home and pursuing their own life adventures. They will have learned their formative lessons and chosen who they will become. I will I longer serve as full-time teacher, best friend, and #1 fan. Other good people will begin to fill those roles. While I know that I will always be their mother, I see that the relationship will change—it must change. In that future day, I am sure there will be plenty of dishes in the sink to be washed. There will be many friends for me to correspond with and catch up on. There will be shopping to do, chores to complete, and hobbies to enjoy. But there will be no babies at my breast, no small children in my bed and no gaggle of young, hungry bodies at my table. I feel now a strong sense of urgency in mothering these children—an intense desire to make sure I am investing myself in them and focusing on these people more than the tasks surrounding them. When I consistently choose to mother this way I am happier and more fulfilled in my life. The necessary and mundane tasks I do as a mother and wife seem less oppressions, and more opportunities. Opportunities to sacrifice for another human being, to invest myself and my energies in the enterprise that yields more joy than anything I know of.

I am overcome with a renewed resolve to be present with my family when I am at home. I mean being engaged mentally, emotionally and physically with my husband and children during our hours together. I certainly have my time for me when I need it and that is important, of course. But my interactions with my children are the main purpose of my life right now, and I want those interactions to be intentional and engaged.

This week I have been reminded that childhood goes fast. And I know I don’t want to miss a thing.

What are ways that you make sure to connect with your kids during the day? Ideas that have worked for you to keep distractions in check?

Flutter and Rise

Thoughts flutter
and rise from my soul
like paper cranes
lifted by an updraft from some hidden vent.

Cranes like the ones my grandfather
used to make for me
during church when I was small
to help me be reverent and still.

Yes, these thoughts are like those cranes:
reverent and joyful,
fluttering and rising
toward something beautiful.

Perhaps God gives me such thoughts
to help me pause
in reverence and awe
and be still.