Monday, July 30, 2012

Smart Phone Balance

We were on a sunset cruise in the harbor in Newport Beach, California. I got the tickets online at a 50% discount--$25 per person with unlimited beverages. It was our 37th wedding anniversary and I wanted to surprise my husband. It was a very cool evening but this meant the sky was clear and we would have a wide open view of the sunset when it arrived. It began at 7:30 p.m. and sunset was not until 8:30 p.m. so we had time to see some of the incredible harbor homes and boats docked alongside them. I had to work hard not to be taking pictures the whole time. I took a picture of an enormous speed boat to send to a friend that likes them. I took another picture of a home built on a rock wall in the harbor to send to a friend who loves architecture. Then I thought to myself, I don’t want to give so much attention to taking pictures to show others that I fail to really enjoy the view in the moment.

So I put my camera phone away and determined to just take in the view and experience the cruise in real time. With my nose out of my own cell phone I immediately noticed how many other people were on theirs. Lots of people were sitting or standing next to each other. But the vast majority were doing something on their cell phones and not paying any attention to the cruise or to the person they were with. Oh well, it was still light out and maybe they were waiting for the grand finale—the sunset.  The sunset was cool. The lack of any clouds prevented any serious color other than that of the sun itself. But over the water it is always spectacular to see the sun set—that enormous bright orange disc gradually shrinking into the waves and disappearing as a brilliant pinpoint of light on the horizon.  An added bonus on our way back into the harbor after sunset was all the harbor lights. Most of the homes and harbor businesses, including a Ferris wheel, were strung with white lights. It was enchanting.

It was then that I noticed the glowing face. Now way past sunset the boat was dark. Sitting diagonally from us on one of the boat benches with her back to the water and view was a woman with her face glued to her cell phone. The light of the smart phone screen created an eerie glow that lit up her face. It reminded me of the old movie Tron. I expected at any minute for her to disappear by being electronically sucked into her phone.  Here she was paying good money to see a sunset harbor cruise and she was totally captivated in her cell phone world.  Just over her shoulder behind her and all around was a panorama of lights and colors reflected from the sky and water. She was really missing out.

I wonder how much of the beauty of the world and people around us we are missing out on. Don’t get me wrong. I really like my IPhone.  It is my calendar, my GPS, my news source, and my main means of communication professionally. I have the amazing ability to connect with friends and family far away with pictures as well as words.  There is a needed balance, however. I see people sitting in restaurants all the time connecting by texting or emailing with people, who knows where, and sitting right across from them is a person from whom they seem very disconnected. I see people so glued to their cell phones checking sports statistics and surfing for good deals on all sorts of products and services all the while completely missing out on conversation and discovery of relationships physically in front of them.  It was when I took my phone out to snap a picture of this woman glued to her phone that I realized that I got sucked in. Determined as I was to leave my phone in my pocket I took it out and snapped a picture of the irony. And as I did I was part of it. I could not resist. This was bloggable. This has a lesson for me and others so enchanted by and so dependent on our smart phones.

The lesson is one of balance. I will continue to use my smart phone to connect with all sorts of people at all sorts of times. But this glaring example of missing out on a sunset cruise has deepened my commitment to paying attention first to the people and world around me, then, as time and occasion allows or requires, to use the amazing technology available through my IPhone.  I have recommitted to not missing out.
Here are four guidelines and one idea I try to live by with my smart phone:

     1. When I am with someone else for a limited period of time, i.e. lunch with a friend/colleague or
          overnight with a relative or friend, I turn off the sound on my phone.
     2.  When I am with someone else for a limited period of time, unless I am expecting an emergency or
          time critical call, I do not answer the phone (or check texts or emails!). This is especially important if I
          am with someone who I do not see on a regular basis and someone calls who I do see more regularly.
     3.  If I am expecting a time critical email or text or phone call, I apologize and tell the person ahead of
          time that I am waiting for an emergency or time sensitive communication  that I will need to attend to
          briefly (i.e. when someone in my congregation is dying, I will accept a call or check a text or email
          from one of the family members).
     4.  I try to inform friends and family who I communicate with regularly about these guidelines so they will
          understand when I do not answer a communication immediately.
     5.  One last idea: I try to go without my smart phone once a week even if only for a couple of hours just
           to mediate my dependency! I dare you to try it!

How do you ensure that you are not missing out? Do you have any helpful hints for others on how you maintain balance? I still need help so would love to hear what you do! Please leave your comments.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Love Hate Relationship with Technology

I love that I can talk to my one year old granddaughter on facetime and receive pictures and videos as often as my son and daughter in law are willing to humor me. They live two hours away so otherwise it is usually a couple of weeks between times I get to see her.  But I hate that I can be with a person who I really adore and they are more often on their cell phone—texting, checking email, googling something, or answering the phone—more than they are interacting with me.  And it is not just my friends and family. I see this all the time when I am out and about. People all over the place together, but not really because each are on their cell phones doing other things. If it is like this now with those of us who this technology is new to, what will it be like for my granddaughter?

She already is more interested in her IPhone (an old cast off first generation one not fully functioning anymore) than any other toy she has. At one year old she knows how to turn it on and how to unlock it and slide the screen to change pictures or applications. The first time I saw her begin to demonstrate these skills she was only about ten months old! She is especially captivated by pictures and movies of herself. Now at her first birthday party she sits pleasantly enjoying her new little beach chair on her iphone. What will communicating be like for these children raised on this technology? I am not an all doom and gloom kind of gal. So I do not see this as the end of authentic human relationships or the complete demise of genuine social networking. But I do wonder how the dominance of it--music, movies, texts, email, googling-- will impact the way people relate.

Because of the ready availability of the camera on the smart phone a person can take pictures and videos anytime, and decent ones. Yet, this immediate availability of recording significant life events and moments means that we are in some sense once removed from the event  and moment itself. Recording it and watching it later is never quite the same as actually being there and experiencing it.  I frequently have to tell myself to put down the camera and just enjoy. It is hard. Because there are so many new ways to share these moments with others who cannot be there. And because I am a writer and a communicator I know that there will be numerous occasions to use these captured moments for wider communication, and in my case, ministry. Case in point—this picture of my granddaughter on her first birthday in her new little chair looking at her IPhone!

Here’s what I think we will need to do to help mitigate the potential negative consequences of this preoccupation with technical communication.

First, set boundaries for our children. Like has been done with the use of computers and video games, time limits should be set for children using these devices.

Second, create real life interactive opportunities for your children. It is not very compelling to lure them away from an interactive multi-media screen to read a book. But if you build a relationship with your child or grandchild by reading books together using props and animated voices (it does not require an acting degree to do this, just love and risk) they just may choose reading a book with you over their video screen.

Third, ahead of time prepare activities that are interactive and tactile—plant a flower together,   finger paint and then go to the store to pick out a mat and frame and find a place on the wall to hang it.

Fourth, take a walk, for goodness sake, and a simple scavenger hunt can make it quite inviting for a child!

Finally, as was the case with computer and video game technology, do not leave your children to interact with technology alone. Play games with them. Look at pictures and movies with them. Plan together to write an email, or make a phone call to a loved one. Be a part of their social networking and technological communication.

I will continue to love and hate this technology.  I can choose to be intentional and creative about how it is a part of my life and the lives of those I have influence over.  Just got a text with a movie attached of my granddaughter chasing a cat around the courtyard by her house. She is leaving for three weeks on a trip with her parents. This IS time critical. I will catch you later.