A Long look at home (third of three in this series)

[I know blogposts are supposed to be short and this is not, so just read what you have time for.]

Perhaps I should stop going to Panera.  I don’t know what rock I’ve been under but “shock” is the only word for what I’ve felt my last few visits.  In the booth next to me, a young boy—maybe 12—was excitedly telling his dad about his club at school. Honest!  I saw, with my own eyes, a preteen boy dying to talk to his dad.  Talking “at” would better describe it.  Dad would give an occasional “Hmm-mm” as he sat focused on his phone checking something evidently very important.  The boy would wait, and hesitantly start again.  For those who know me, you know how hard it was for me to not pipe up, “FOR GOODNESS SAKE, HE WON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU FOREVER!!!  LOOK AT YOUR DARLING SON!”  I noticed no ring on Dad’s left hand.  Perhaps this was “quality time” with his son that week.  I can still see the look on the son’s face as he kept trying to get Dad’s attention.

Another family arrived with four beautiful children in designer clothes.  Dad was joking with the teenage daughter who jerked his hand away with a sullen look, while she told him exactly what she’d like him to order. Once they found their table, all four children, and dad, each pulled out his/her device ignoring the others.  Every now and then a chuckle was heard, but it wasn’t shared with those around them.

Next was a family actually happily talking to each another, with the exception of the boy with the beautiful blonde curls and striking fixated blue eyes who held his electronic device in front of his face with both hands, as he rhythmically rocked side to side for the half hour I observed.  And on it went.

Then I read Dr. Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together.   Her insights overwhelmed me.  I was enlightened, saddened and unsettled, to say the least, by what I read.  As a Christian, I had already been concerned with the challenges to our relationships, especially with the crumbling of marriages, and children born to busy adults, and so many in temporary relationships. But Turkle writes of “progress” that I thought only took place on the sci-fi screen—robotic dolls that some children and elderly are relating to better than the loved ones in their lives?  Wow!  I crawled out from Rock #2.

A professor at MIT and founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Turkle has spent many years deeply involved in the technology revolution but, unlike many others who have merely researched and invented those developments, she takes a critical look at the toll technology has taken, and will continue to take, on our already threatened relationships as human beings.   Real life relationships are often ignored—they take effort and vulnerability.  Cyber-relationships are preferred where you can “be” whoever you want to be, fabricate your beautiful image, or, you can say whatever hateful thing you feel because you’re safe behind your screen.

“These days we expect more from technology than we expect from each other,” Turkle explained in a radio interview.  “Technology appeals to us where we are most vulnerable.  We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy.  And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.  We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control.  But we are not so comfortable.  We are not so in control.”

Our technological devices, in Turkle’s words, “change our hearts and minds”  with, what she calls, “gratifying fantasies.”   I’m not exaggerating my feelings of alarm as I read her examples of young people today increasingly preoccupied with their online life.  They sleep with their device so they don’t miss an important post/message.  One girl told Turkle, “I keep the sound on when I drive.  When a text comes in, I have to look.  No matter what.  Fortunately, my phone shows me the text as a pop up right up front so I don’t have to do too much looking while I’m driving.”  Another says “I interrupt a call even if the new call says ‘unknown’ as an identifier—I just have to know who it is…”.  (p 175)*   As humans we all have insecurities we face.  But what a weighty dimension social media adds!  Not to mention, when is there time for personal reflection?   What is that?  Processing life events?  And all this takes a severe toll on the real relationships they can and should be developing.

Turkle has spent years observing and talking with our youth.  “We have seen young people walk the halls of their schools composing messages to online acquaintances they will never meet.  We have seen them feeling more alive when connected, then disoriented and alone when they leave their screens.  Some live more than half their waking hours in virtual places.”  But even teens long for traditional connections—“… they also talk wistfully about letters, face-to-face meetings, and the privacy of pay phones.  Tethered selves, they try to conjure a future different from the one they see coming by building on a past they never knew.  In it, they have time alone, with nature, with each other, and with their families.” (p 265)

The relationship Turkle doesn’t discuss in Alone Together is the all-important one, the one that promises lasting satisfaction and peace, and structure and healing for all other relationships.  But after all the hoopla, after the earthquake and fire, will we, like Elijah, be able to hear that “still small voice”.  Are we even listening?  The onslaught of distractions makes it harder to concentrate.  I only know those of my own heart, but these encroachments can all but snuff out what we are put here to do—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  The older I get, the more I find myself reflecting on relationships, and needing Jesus to help me love like Him.  It takes time—not only the loving but the thought processes and prayer beforehand.  Then there’s the simple joy in what’s around me.  Discovering and enjoying all He has given me!  Sharing that with my children and grandchildren.  Leading author/speaker, Dr. Paul Tripp, challenges parents to rediscover and convey the awe of God to their children.  Where is the awe of GOD in this world of constant distraction?**

But as Kip Dynamite says,  “Ooh, we love technology”.  Working parents can give their kids phones to communicate throughout the day.  Recipes, passport information, driving directions, restaurant recommendations, business deals—at our fingertips in seconds.  I can skype with my daughter in Thailand and my friend in Uganda. Back in the ‘60s, my mother would write a letter to my brother in Africa and wait for months for his reply.  I love having continual connection with my kids—quick questions, words of encouragement, and pictures.  Love them!  And children like the beautiful boy with blonde curls in Panera can enjoy some interaction and stimulation. Technology can be wonderful.  But like anything else, we need our heads on straight when we utilize it.

Confessions of a Control Freak  talks about my years of reacting from fear.  So I no longer want to be an alarmist or to despair.  Distractions and addictions have always been there—novels, the news, board/card games, porn, endless phone conversations, gossip, shopping, the stock market.   But these at least took a little effort.  We can’t ignore the enabling that technology offers—to escape to our attractions/addictions with merely a tap or two.  What will draw our children back, however, if not us parents and caregivers?  What draws us back?

Some of my most vivid memories growing up in the Knox house were meal times.  We came together at least once a day, talked, shared, argued, whatever.  Not every memory was happy, of course.  But for the most part, it was where things got processed in a supportive community.  Once I married and our oldest two children wanted to play sports, we had to make a family decision.  Larry and I wanted one meal a day where we were all together.  So the communal meal was changed to breakfast where sharing, teaching, reading of books we felt important, etc., took place.

Parenting has always had to be intentional.  Reaching our children’s hearts is a task we can only hope to accomplish with God’s power and wisdom, and with time.  Tripp reminds us that barking orders and administering punishment as we race out the door to the next activity is not Christian parenting.  We have to take time through each day to seize those character-building opportunities where we talk to our child about what they have done or what they are feeling.  Examining our own lives for where we fall short, pleading with God for His mercy and help for change, and sharing our struggles with our children can’t possibly be accomplished without intentional steps taken to limit the distractions and allow for biblical, responsible parenting.

Take a walk with your child.  In the car, talk about things that matter.  When disciplining, keep in mind these are fragile hearts you hold in your hands. Your job is to point them to their Savior who is their only hope for their little struggles, so He will also be in the big ones they someday encounter. Limit the time your child is in front of anything that is not the real life around them.  Put down your remote/mouse/phone/ipod, etc. The virtual world will always beckon.  The real one around you is in peril.  Pay attention, literally. Our children and their children need us to hear what’s going on insidenot some cyberspace stranger or an electronic companion.  God has ordained that YOU take them by the hand and lead them to Him.

*ALONE TOGETHER:  Why we expect more from technology and less from each other,  by Dr. Sherry Turkle, Basic Books: 2012.

**paultripp.com

 

Fine-tuning our Image (continued from last blogpost)

Whose opinion do I value most?   This is a question I asked at a retreat last month.  It’s been many years since I was challenged personally by Ed Welch’s book When People are Big and God is Small.  It was life-changing.  According to Welch:

….  fear of man is such a part of our human fabric that we should check for a pulse if someone denies it.  Edward T. Welch, When People are Big and God is Small (Phillipsburg, NJ):  P&R Publishing, 1997), p. 17.

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s not the device or the forum that’s the problem.  It’s what our hearts do with it.  Image tweaking on FB is our chance to look good—contemporary, intellectual, spiritual, witty, hip, popular.  Once we’ve crafted our page, we hit “Post” and wait for affirmation.  Ultimately, we want to control the impressions others form of us.  We have the ability to project a carefully-edited image through FB quips and word-smithed electronic messages.

Dr. Turkle in Alone Together  explains:  “Face to face conversation is hard.  An apology is hard.  Think about how hard it is to really apologize, and how easy it is to type, ‘I’m sry.’ And hit ‘send.’ ….What people want is a much more superficial connection.”  And why is that?  We can protect ourselves.  People won’t know us warts and all.  They’ll only know what we allow.  We are less vulnerable behind a screen and a keyboard, a safe little hand-held device to only allow a small peek into our lives.  Spontaneous face-to-face conversation becomes too risky. We might say something dumb, insensitive, naive.  The notion of trust is being challenged and often tossed from relationships. It is no small wonder more and more people are diagnosed with anxieties/phobias when it comes to relating to real live people.

Where are we looking for our sense of worth?  In my book, I made Confession #1 – I care too much what people think of me.  Why?  It’s universal.  None of us escapes the “fear of man”.  Like so many situations, Facebook and other social media raise the question “Whose approval do we seek?”

Do you believe what the Bible says?  God created us specifically us.  The God of this universe made us and loved us enough to die for us, and He has spelled out His will for our lives in His word.  And His will is for our best.  Nothing could give us more worth or security.  Proverbs 9:10 says, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.  Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.” Compare that to what the fear of man does for you.

Jesus had one goal every day He lived here on earth with us—to do His Father’s will.  He feared no one. He was totally secure in His role and it’s what gave Him perfect love of others.  Loving others frees us from the god of self.

Next time:  Taking a long look at home

 

 

 

 

“We have followed too much the devices and desires of our hearts.” BCP 1928

This phrase from a well-loved prayer we pray each Sunday morning has taken on new meaning for me.   

There’s so much buzz about the perils of a world gone technological.  Warnings to parents.  Statistics on relationships changing and disintegrating.  Our own unease when we see the kids at the bus stop, each separately absorbed in his/her own hand-held device, no one talking or laughing with another.  No one apparently noticing another. Or the doctor’s office, like some futuristic scene, where people arrive, sit down, and take out a device rather than say “hello” to the person next to them.  It’s unsettling to me, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m getting old.    

Recently, my family gave me an iPod.  I hadn’t asked for one.  I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do with it.  But when our daughter was re-hospitalized after the birth of her baby and I was the round-the-clock caregiver, I fiddled with the thing and made some wonderful discoveries!  It would take pictures (of this darling whom her mother couldn’t see). I could instantly send them to her mom (who although teary was glued to the image).  I could receive updates from her husband and post to Facebook and email the family with details.  I could simply “tap” Pandora and have my favorites play 24/7.  And, I could Face Time—my daughter was able to talk with her sweet baby, who cooed back at her.  Ah, the wonders of technology.   

I also discovered this same device had magnetic powers.  When I should have been working—or praying, (or sleeping!) I was happily tapping and seeing what was happening pretty much anywhere in the world.  Sometimes everywhere in the world.  It was exhausting—not just physically, after a 2 am bottle—but emotionally.  When have we ever been able to keep in touch with 100+ friends at a time?  To know all the latest tragedies or catastrophes in several countries at once?  To have 20-30 urgent prayer requests, some of a devastating nature, to add to the prayers we’re already endeavoring to pray daily?  Yes, exhausting. A burden I don’t think any of us were ever designed to bear. 

Perhaps you have caught one of the radio interviews with Dr. Sherry Turkle (Prof. of Social Studies and Science and Technology at MIT) who has been following this technology phenomena since we first were blessed with computers.  I recommend her book Alone Together,  which has so many insights I didn’t want the radio interview I caught to end. The interviewer  pointed out “Dr. Turkle is not a Luddite.  She embraces technology but researches and exposes the dangers that come to our relationships and, I believe, our own perception of ourselves.   

I recall the debates and discussions over the evils of TV/movies.  I remember in the early ’50s, my mother didn’t want a TV in our home but finally relented when she found her family was next door most evenings watching the neighbors’ new toy.  I also remember once we had a toy of our own, her having to schedule dinner around our favorite shows.  At least Mom and Dad had sense enough to turn it off for the meal (the setting that holds the most meaningful memories for me).  And so began for so many of us the process of using yet another invention for good or ill.  Nothing about the box is evil.  Just like our hearts.  Jesus says “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them.  Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (Mark 7:15)  He also reminds us that “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” (Luke 12:34) 

After Turkle’s interview, my mind went in too many directions to cover in one short post.  So I’ll divide it up over the next few.  For now, we can safely benefit from this prayer of repentance when “we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts”.  Whether it be tweets, texts, voicemail, email, answering machines, snail mail, magazines, books/Kindles, TV, DVDs, work, people, our personal agenda, or any other distraction which keeps us from our heavenly father, we need to see clearly the place these have in our lives and how they affect our minds, hearts, and relationships.  Each morning when I open my eyes, a host of things fight for my attention.  I heard a famous preacher tell how he had to fight off the magazines calling his name as he moved toward his Bible.  Nothing wrong with the magazines.  But could they give him life?  Amidst the din, the One who watches over it all continues to call our name—the One who  loves us more than anyone on FB does, the source of wisdom for our circumstances and relationships, the One who forgives and heals us, the place of refuge from all the distractions that tempt us to settle for an ounce of gratification when we can have total contentment.  “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  (Proverbs 4:23) 

I especially hope that you will leave your comments here for us all to benefit from.  Thanks for stopping by! J  Next time:  Fine-tuning our image…