Seven: Media

From the reflection room at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

From the reflection room at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9 (CEB)

 

This is the week of mutiny against media. As I read Jen’s introduction, the focus seems to be on technology. Where is the excess media my life? My phone is the main offender. I probably check my email 50 times a day, which is ridiculous since the emails I receive are a fraction of that. I check Facebook almost as much, including first thing in the morning. I refer to this as “checking the news.” The real time-sucker is apps – particularly Carcassonne and Lost Cities. I used to do Sudoku on my phone, but have moved to paper (so it doesn’t count this week, right?). I don’t really watch TV, although I like movies. I don’t really surf the web. So what 7 things I am going to eliminate this week?

I don’t know if I have 7. So instead, I’m going to focus on what I will allow: 30 minutes a day of email, internet and games. I turned off the notifications for email and Facebook on my phone and moved these apps – as well as the games – off my home screen. This way I can use my phone (who knew you could use your phone as just a phone?) without seeing the little red numbers beckoning me to come see what I’m missing.

The offenders:  exiled to their own separate page.

The offenders: exiled to their own separate page.

My family is participating with me this week. We already play a lot of games, but we often do it while we have a movie on or are watching something on TV. We’ll be focusing on more activities with our time together. As for myself, I am allowing use of my computer for non-internet things – such as writing this blog. I’m also texting (of which I do very little anyway).   Let the games (or rather, the absence of games) begin!

 

Day 1

Today I am driving to Minneapolis for the NEXT Church conference. This means 5½ hours alone in the car. I’m an introvert, but I’ve already spent almost 12 hours alone in the car this week. There are only so many conversations I can have in my head. So I decided music and audio books are not media. To justify my decision, I spent the first 90 minutes in silence, trying to spend this time praying for the Church. My total prayer time might have only been 15-20 minutes but I spent this time praying and reflecting, wandering and returning. I spent the next 60 minutes listening to a worship album. I didn’t skip to a song I wanted to hear, but just let the album play through. Then, I turned on my (non-fiction) audio book.

When I arrived in Minneapolis, I attended a worship service at a new church development, and then, since it was still 60 and sunny, I went for a run down by the river. As I was running down Nicollet Mall past all the storefronts, I began to wonder if there was more of media to fast from. Was this week a fast from technology or media? When I think of media, I think of advertising. These storefronts are designed to make me want more. As I’m looking at all the colorful and cute spring clothes, I’m thinking back to all the things I just purged from my closet and my commitment not to replace them. It seems that a fast from shopping (or looking at magazines) would be appropriate this week as well.

These are also things that distract me from my relationships with other people, the needs of people throughout the world, and an honest image of myself.

As I was fast and furiously checking my email this evening, one member of our group said that she was adding in the UNICEF Tap Project this week. This project earns money for clean water for every ten minutes you don’t touch your phone. I can’t use it when I’m carrying my phone around, but it is a reminder to just let it be. I guess there is real value to setting your phone down.

unicef tap

Day 2

“Of course, clusters of people chatted with each other, making dinner plans, “networking’ in that old sense of the word, the one that implies having a coffee or sharing a meal. But at this conference, it was clear that what people mostly want from public space is to be alone with their personal networks. It is good to come together physically, but it is more important to stay tethered to our devices.” (Turkle, Alone Together: Why we Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other 2011, 14)
 

Looking around this church conference, it doesn’t really look any different from when I went to conferences with Deloitte: everyone is on their Smartphone or iPad. In 2014, I guess this doesn’t really surprise me. What did surprise me, though, were the number of people (and most people here are pastors) that were on their phones and other devices during worship. I see a lot of irony in this.

Because I didn’t have my phone to check (or play on), during breaks I sat quietly by myself watching and listening to people (and sometimes finding someone to strike a conversation up with). This is an interesting dynamic on what you do with yourself when there is a pause in the action. My learned reaction was to grab my phone. It made me realize how quickly we go from being present to being somewhere else. If I wasn’t on this technology fast, I would have done the same. Instead, I watched and thought about the presentations and conversations that have been happening at the conference. I’m definitely more present without my phone.

I didn’t use my full 30 minutes today because I didn’t get back to my room until after 10:00 pm. Are these rollover minutes that I can use tomorrow or are they gone – like the minutes I waste most days playing Lost Cities?

 

Day 6

Last night, we “cheated” and watched the Gophers win the NIT. At least we cheated as a family. One difference from our normal TV watching was that there were no other screens being utilized. I don’t think we’re the only family who watches something “together” but one or more will also have another screen out. Sometimes this is just checking email or responding to a text, but the truth is that it takes us away from each other.

“In the evening… they are likely to form what have been called ‘postfamilial families.’ Their members are alone together, each in their own rooms, each on a networked computer or mobile device. We go online because we are busy but end up spending more time with technology and less with each other. We defend connectivity as a way to be close even as we effectively hide from each other.” (Turkle, 280-1)

This is a struggle for me. I’m usually pretty good about not being on my phone or an iPad, BUT my office is right off of the living room. As a result, when I get up for something I also usually take a walk in there to check email or what’s happening on Facebook. Also, while I’m not usually on a screen, I do often have a crocheting project going. I asked the boys a few years ago if it felt like I wasn’t “with” them when I crocheted, and they said it was OK. Because I wasn’t really looking at it (and, probably, interacting with it), I was still being present with them.

I don’t really want to hide from my family. Why, then, is it so hard to just be with them. Why do I want to “be” with people via email or Facebook when I can be with the people I’m actually with (and care most about)? Why is a game on a screen more satisfying than a game around a table with real people? Maybe it just comes down to selfishness and narcissism: I can play any game I want to on the screen and not have to compromise. I can do what I want when everyone else chooses a TV show or movie I’m not really interested in.

 

Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25 (CEB)

Overall, this hasn’t been a difficult week because I don’t really watch much TV. Where this week’s fast was difficult was in the downtime. I’m standing in line at the store, of course I would check my email. Waiting for the wash to finish so I can put it in the dryer, why not play a quick game?

I began by using my 30 minutes of screen time in one block but towards the end of the week used it throughout the day keeping a stopwatch of the time. I don’t like waiting until the evening to check email. However, not checking constantly throughout the day was fine. This is probably a habit I can continue – essentially not checking every time I walk past the office or see my phone sitting on the counter.

What I noticed more, since I was thinking of media vs. technology, were the emails I get trying to sell me things. I don’t really shop in physical stores, but I often click on the email to check out what cute thing or pretty item is on sale. I wouldn’t even think about these things if I didn’t see the email. I do go through my email every so often and actually unsubscribe rather than just delete them.

I need to do this again.

I think the reason I don’t unsubscribe from everything is because sometimes I get coupons I can use. But this, too, is really part of this anxiety about what I might be missing if I don’t get these emails. Probably what I’m missing is more anxiety about something I (now) want but can’t or shouldn’t buy.

Overall, I think this week impressed on me the need to pay attention. This mean paying attention to how and when I am interacting with screens. It is also checking myself on whether I am being present wherever or with whomever I find myself. And it also means taking a new eye to the emails I get and the pages I like on Facebook to consider what media messages I am taking in. Like all things, in moderation, technology and media are good things.

But it is important to remember that they are just things.

 

Books I commend to you:

Alone Together: Why we Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle – an excellent resource about how technology changes us and impacts our identity.

Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt – the audio book I’m listening to this week.

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