Thursday, March 22, 2012

Digitally Distracted

This is going to be ugly and humiliating, so have a seat. We might be here a while.

I’ve been thinking a lot about digital distractions lately.

Our campus was hurt recently by some people misusing Twitter. I won’t go into the details, but it was not good, all around. Our president addressed the situation beautifully in chapel, beginning with the concept of digital distraction.

He suggested that chapel is probably not the place to be digitally distracted—it’s meant for more than just a community gathering time. Chapel is worship and worship might just not be the appropriate place for cell phones.

Using the example of a Christmas Eve service he attended, he explained that the gentleman sitting next to him was on his cell phone, checking email or something else, throughout the service. Our president said he didn’t know what to do. He was so distracted that he couldn’t enjoy the worshipful Christmas Eve service that was unfolding before him because of the person sitting next to him.

I’ve had the same experience during one of my daughter’s orchestra concerts. A gentleman walked into the concert late, sat down next to me, and pulled out his cell phone. The bright light emanating from his phone distracted me throughout the concert, ruining the experience entirely.

Both of these experiences have got me thinking (and here’s where things get ugly and humiliating for me)—have I been digitally distracted?

The easy answer to that question is yes. I know I have.

When I close my computer for the night, then immediately pick up my cell phone and start checking emails, I know I have a problem. When I walk in the door and check Facebook updates, I know I have a problem. When I come downstairs in the morning and read emails before I read my Bible, I know I have a problem.

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had recently as God has spoken to my heart about my own digital distractions.

When we are digitally distracted, we hurt people without realizing it. Sometimes we are so consumed by what’s going on inside the screen that we forget to look up and see what’s going on outside of it. I know I have hurt people by my own actions in this area, something that is so humbling to me I can barely stand to write it. I have also been on the receiving end of others’ digital distraction, so I fully understand the hurt I have caused.

If I truly believe that people are more important than things, I need to look up and out, not into a screen.

When we are digitally distracted, we keep ourselves from doing other things we probably should be doing. Like making dinner, hanging curtains, and cleaning out closets. These are just a few things on my to-do list. What does yours look like?

When we are digitally distracted, we keep others from doing what they should be doing. I wonder if my distraction has so consumed the people around me that it distracted them from other things as well. I wonder if I’ve been like that person in church, just checking my phone real quick, and keeping someone from worshiping God as they should.

So I’ve been wondering what I need to change, and I’ve come up with a few ideas.

Be aware. This process has already started for me, and I am so much more aware lately of how I’ve allowed digital distractions to creep into my real life. I understand that there is a time and a place for technology in my life—I couldn’t work or write without it—but there is also a time and a place to put the technology aside.

Look up, not in. I’m going to try, as much as possible, to close my computer when my kids walk in the room. Hey, I’ve got teenagers, and the conversations don’t always happen naturally. Sometimes they just happen when we’re hanging out, undistracted. I know for sure that my kids aren’t going to talk to me if I barely look up when they enter the room. (Another sentence that is slightly painful to write.)

This sounds like such a no-brainer but I need to limit my time on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader. Twitter isn’t that much of a distraction for me—I rarely go there, but when I do I can get sucked in. Facebook and Google Reader, though, are complete traps for me. Again, I don’t think any of this is necessarily wrong, and I find it relaxing to read blogs, but if the amount of time I’m spending there feels like too much, it’s too much.

You might be thinking, What’s the big deal? If my kids are on the computer doing homework, why can’t I just be on my computer too? Here’s why I think it’s a big deal: I think our kids take their cues from us, and if they see us sitting in front of a screen all evening, they will think the same is O.K. for them.

But the truth is, we desperately need to get away from it all. We need time and space to just talk or read or think. And being digitally distracted is not going to give us the space to do that.

Like I said, I need my computer to work and to write, but I don’t need my computer as much or as often as I think I do. This week I’m going to try, especially when my family is around, to live in the real world rather than the virtual one. Hopefully my habits will change and I’ll be a better person for it.

Of course, I might find some other things change too. I might find that I don’t need technology as much as I think I do. I might find that those spontaneous conversations actually can and do happen. I might find that I like myself a little more and that the people around me like me better too.

Trust me, this is so convicting to write, but I worry that it’s not just me who is digitally distracted. We’re raising an entire generation of kids who think they cannot survive without being plugged in. (Believe me, I see it every day at work.)

Glennon at Momastery (a fabulous new-to-me blog that I already LOVE) wrote about this recently, and she said this: “Sometimes I have to turn away from the computer so that I can experience life and then come back and write about what I noticed.”

Yes! I need . . . my kids need . . . an entire generation needs to turn away from digital distractions and simply experience LIFE. I want to be the parent who models this because I want my kids to live in the real world.

And want to live there too.

How about you? Have you been digitally distracted? What did you do about it? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.



  1. A few times I have seen people with their phones out on Sunday morning and they are looking at the scripture passage through their ESV app (or whatever) but even that is distracting to me...and I wonder if there isn't something slightly irreverent about the phone instead of a Bible (ya know...James and the tongue analogy). I have been complaining to my hubby that everyone else (including him) has a smart phone but mine is still stupid. This is a good reminder that my 'not so smart' phone is good enough. I will now get off the computer to take away the roll of floss my 18mo. old has totally unrolled! Talk about digital distraction!

  2. Thanks, Nancy.

    Mrs. W., you make me laugh! I love that--"stupid" phone! You should tell that to my oldest. :)

  3. Thank you for this Shelly. It happens to me as well. I also see it in my 10 year old with her i-pod touch and our i-pad (even with my 5 year old)... I've gone to both of them, obviously needing permission, but having special times that they're allowed to use them, hoping to teach moderation.

  4. Aaaand you know I'm particularly challenged in this area. But this is so timely as I really have resolved to disconnect as well when my kids are around. I find the ipad is really not always a good thing - it's too convenient.

  5. Shelly-What a great conversation piece. And the term "digitally distracted" is the nicest way that I have every heard it described. It is very hurtful to be on the receiving end of this kind of distraction, because the other person is saying that "this machine, this information, or even this other person is more important that you are." We are raising an entire generation of children who are already digitally dialed in. Families need to be vigilant in deciding how it will work for them.
    Great blog!

  6. I have used the computer to stay connected to people in a season of moving and not having the normal amount of people in my life. And while it has been a life saver for me ... the addictive bit is crazy.

    So, far, it works best for me to have times when I don't turn in on at all. (all morning, or all weekend, or every Monday.)Then I enjoy it again.

    Thanks for making us think and squirm in our seats.


  7. I've been so guilty of this since I got my iPad. I've been trying to not be so ocd about it all. *fail* My biggest example, who puts me to shame, is my husband. He erased all the games & fun stuff off his iphone. I asked him why, with overtones of puzzlement & horror (you're not going to expect MOI to so the same, are you????) - his reply? I want to put you first, & spend more time with you & the kids. Aaaack. I mean , how blessed am I? So now I put it down a whole lot more. But I'm amazed at how tough this is.

  8. Hi Shelly-
    This is a great conversation piece! Digitally distracted is the nicest term I have ever used regard this practice. Being on the receiving end of someone who is digitally distracted usually results in hurt feelings for me, because I feel like the distracted one is saying: this machine, this information, this person is more important than you are.
    It is so important for families to work together and to be vigilant in making relationships with one another the priority. The children that are being raised now are pretty much the first generation to be raised by parents who usually have a cell phone in their hand or by their ear. I think there is a lot more at stake than we realize. Great blog-thanks so much.

  9. Oops, I thought that my comment to show up yesterday and sure enough it did. From your digitally impaired friend!

  10. Still thinking ... much ... about this post.

  11. Ouch, ouch, OUCH.

    Well said, my friend.

    I am so very, very grateful for the digital blessings in my life. After all, if it weren't for blogging, I would never have met you! But I need a better balance between all things digital and the world right here around me.

    What's the "right" balance? I don't know. But I know the One who does know. Fact is, I need to ask Him about it. Maybe I'm afraid how He'll answer??

    I love it when your words touch me so deeply.

  12. "When I close my computer for the night, then immediately pick up my cell phone and start checking emails, I know I have a problem. When I walk in the door and check Facebook updates, I know I have a problem. When I come downstairs in the morning and read emails before I read my Bible, I know I have a problem."


    You have been secretly watching me, I just know it!!!

    For me, it happens so slowly. So subtly. For months, my e-mail function wasn't working on my phone. And during that time, I found myself looking at people, instead of my phone in public. Once it got fixed, I told myself it would save time at home if I checked e-mails when I was out.

    It doesn't. It just makes me check and read them twice. Or read other things when i get home.

    Today, I have 5 million things to do, but I've stopped at my computer and/or phone at least 30 times in the last 3 hours to check e-mails. No lie.

    Heaven help us.

    This post is a keeper for me. I will refer to it often.

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I love you.

  13. Shelly, I like your comment about kids taking cues from us. In my quiet time just today I was convicted about priorities. Thanks for your honesty and for the suggestions you made to curb the digital distraction. God Bless!