We live in a world filled with electronic devices. Many days start with checking for new text messages or e-mails when we wake up in the morning and end with scrolling through Facebook or Twitter news feeds before we fall asleep at night. I have been known to walk the dog on a crisp and colorful fall day, gazing down at my phone instead of up at the gorgeous hues of red, yellow and orange leaves set against a brilliant blue sky. More often these days, it seems we miss nature’s breathtaking beauty, sacrifice our opportunities to learn from others, or maybe even ignore our inner musings as we face an increasing pull from our laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Of course, technology and electronic communication contribute in countless ways to our modern world. Social media can enrich our relationships by connecting us to people we knew from grade school or friends who have moved halfway across the world. Many a parent has breathed a sign of relief after receiving a text from a teenage driver announcing a safe arrival. The Internet has forever changed the world, allowing us to come together and be informed in ways we never dreamed of in the past.
Although they enhance our lives, in our household, we began to notice ways in which electronics can distract us from the people we care about the most.
When our kids were in grade school, the constantly growing appeal of electronics led to our now infamous “non-electronic Wednesdays”. We dusted off board games, revived outdoor classics such as four square, and traded taking care of virtual pets for chasing our own yellow Labrador around the yard. In the beginning, there was plenty of bickering, complaining, and muttering “I’m bored” – and don’t even get me started on the kids’ response! We weren’t a perfect family, as if such a thing exists, and we didn’t have electronics to distract us from some occasionally challenging personality conflicts. As I listened to a young child’s crying protest that he was “safe” at first base in the outdoor kickball game, I looked longingly toward the house filled with electronic haven. Deep down, I knew (hoped!) we would manage to sort it out and the next nice evening, be ready to play again.
We learned some important lessons from those days. Purposely putting aside electronics allows you to get things done that might otherwise fall by the wayside. We wrote letters to elderly relatives, organized photo albums and realized that playing Clue is as much fun now as it was “back in the day”. We learned people can get on each others’ nerves when not distracted by electronics, and this leads to some great opportunities to express all kinds of feelings. Expressing all kinds of feelings helped us learn the importance of forgiveness and moving on. We also learned that parents set examples for their children, and unless you are on call to perform brain surgery in the next 30 minutes, the phone can likely be left at the charging station so that actual conversation occurs at the dinner table.
These days, we don’t devote entire Wednesdays to non-electronic activities. It might be easier to pry a meaty bone our of our ravenous dog’s mouth than get our teenagers to part with their phones for a full day. We do the best we can, and try to incorporate the spirit of those Wednesdays into current, everyday life. This might mean taking a few minutes when we wake up to reflect on the day ahead, instead of immediately reaching for the phone. It might mean asking about each others’ daily highs and lows, instead of trading status updates with Facebook friends. We’ve discovered a website that donates clean water when your phone sits idle – the longer it sits, the more water donated. What a great way to set aside electronics and also accomplish something good. Perhaps the biggest lesson we learned was that it’s not a “penalty” to consciously take breaks from electronics; real world interactions are enjoyable all on their own. Rediscovering that can help all of us share a much needed in-person laugh with friends instead of merely texting LOL.
Laura B joined Empathia in 2000 and is an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.