Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Sometimes it is a difficult thing to imagine, since technology and gadgets are such an integral component in our lives, but there are (believe it or not) actually times where technology is a hindrance, bother, annoyance, or downright dangerous.  That last remark may seem a poignant reference to texting whilst operating machinery, but it extends beyond that.

So, what is a Tech Geek like me doing talking about de-teching?  Once years ago, someone put it to me like this: if you have to choose between a critical after-hours work involvement, and a critical family involvement, think about this.  When you are lying on your death bed, will you regret missing work, or will you regret missing that family event?  That helps me put things in perspective.

There are times when cell phones, PDA's, computers, even telephones are inappropriate.  This is different for each person, but there is also an aspect of considering the feelings of others.  A friend posted on her Facebook yesterday what I thought was a really nice survey of what types of coworkers people found annoying - and I really thought about the "Tappers" - people who sit in meetings in which the are supposed to be participating, but are tapping on their Blackberries/iPhones/etc.

So, am I to preach what you should and should not do?  That is not my intent.  What I want to do with this article, is to trigger that little-used "thought" app that you downloaded when you were a kid, but haven't used much in relation to technology.  Ignore the article if you wish!  I cannot advise you on when you should or should not use your cell phone (heck, nowadays the law will tell you that!), but I can share with you some of the tools I use to help me choose.

Why De-Tech?

Since the dawn of time, mankind has become a tool maker.  We use our smarts and the stuff around us to develop technology that gives us an edge, makes tasks easier to accomplish, and even entertains.  From stone knives to the iPhone, we have a plethora of stuff available to us every day.  However, overuse or over-reliance on a tool, or tools beyond the ones God gave us (brains & hands), can foster a disconnect between our lives (soul if you will) and our experience of our lives.

For example, if you want to tell someone something, modern technology gives us an unbelievable number of ways to do it.  We can text them, we can e-mail them, we can call them, send a letter, heck we may even be able to video conference.  However, have you ever heard the phrase "there is no substitute for face-to-face?"

E-mails and text messages (and in a way phone calls) cannot convey nuances of inflection, facial expressions, and body language that communicate syntax that is just as important as the spoken words themselves.  If you rely mainly on these forms of communication, you may find that the quality of your relationships has dimished to the point of simple message/reply, or have statements misinterpreted and have things blow up out of proportion to what was intended.

If you are watching your daughter's playoff basketball game against the rival team, and it is a close game, but you are in the middle of texting or talking on the phone, what is your experience and the quality of connectedness between you and your daughter?

I think what is missing in the technology, is a cultural context in which to determine when and if we should use that technology.  In fact, exactly because of this line of thinking, this is why at home we do a lot of food preparations and food processing manually - with the kids when they want to help out.  Pickles, drinks, beef and chicken stocks, tomato sauces, growing and harvesting our own foods - these all give us a connectedness to each other, and to God's creations - oh, and by the way, they are healty.

How to De-Tech?

So, how do we do it?  I mean, we have all these neat stuff because, well, they are neat.  They are useful, and make our lives easier in many ways.  However, as with any tool, there are certain things these tools do well, and other things that other tools are better at.  For example, a screwdriver is great at turning a screw.  Not so great at hammering a nail, or at pulling a nail.  You could do it, but a claw hammer is better.

The first tool I use to help determine if I should use a gadget or not, is Stop And Think.

  • Is the tool the best way to communicate what I want to communicate?  For example, e-mail and text messages have one big shortcoming.  They are prone to misunderstandings.  So, is the message I am sending simple enough to be clearly communicated in this way, or if it is complex or perhaps emotionally charged, a phone call or face-to-face would be better.
  • Is the use of the tool disturbing to others?  If I am a Tapper, then it obviously is.  My family can attest, since I have had an MP3 player, I am prone to walking around with earbuds in my ears - even if the sound is off, people are not sure whether or not I am able to hear them.
Sometimes, it's not so easy to Stop And Think.

The next tool, is the Deathbed question.  Will I regret using the tool / missing out on other things, or will I regret not gaining the functionality the gadget gives me?

Also, I have another tool called Do I Really Need To?  This one I sometimes use to justify my use of a gadget.  For example, if I am on vacation, but the sales guys really need to tap my knowledge for an hour to close a big deal - heck, in this economy we have to do whatever it takes, so I will leave my cell phone on, check my e-mail, respond to the call from work.

Finally, there is an I Need A Break tool.  Sometimes, I need a break from it all!  Turn off the TV, get away from the computer, no MP3 - just hang out on the porch in the folding chair with a beer in my hand.  Hey, you're allowed - and you deserve it!

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