One way to connect with other people is to disconnect from technology from time to time. I’m a techie, and I love my gadgets. But a few years ago, I became a reluctant convert to the discipline of disconnecting. The insidiousness of having work with me wherever I walk, sit, or run deeply affects my soul and relationships. Even if I’m not working, I know I could be. And the temptation to work creates a constant urgency and obsession that’s hard to resist.
Flash back to my BlackBerry days. I love my family’s response to my first smartphone obsession: they went all out to preserve their relationships with me. While I was connecting with lots of people, I wasn’t connecting with the most important people—my family. They fought for my heart. I wish I had seen earlier what was happening, but I’m so glad they saw it.
Over the last few years, I’ve made drastic changes in how we relate as a family, recognizing how technology is increasingly and dramatically affecting our personal lives. I want to make sure that any electronic device I use will enrich my life—especially my family life—and not erode it. So let me share some strategies I’ve learned to make sure technology doesn’t own me like it used to:
- • My family members and I shut off everything (except background music) at dinner. No phones and no TV—just conversation and food. We try to eat at home together as a family five or six times a week. That’s a sit-down-and-chat kind of mealtime. We recently remodeled our kitchen to make it even easier to cook together and eat together. Rather than cooking for our guests all the time, we’ve recrafted the space so it’s easy to work on meals together—a shared communal experience. In an era of constant distraction and busyness, food created in a home setting can provide an almost sacramental connection.
• I no longer use my phone in the car when I have someone with me. I (wince) used to catch up on phone calls when my wife or kids were with me. Not anymore. Being together in the car is a great chance to talk about anything and everything. I’ve never owned a vehicle with a video system for the same reason. Drive time can and should be quality time.
• We play board games—good old-fashioned board games like Monopoly, Clue, or Scrabble. No checking texts, emails, or Facebook during family game time.
• We look for activities to do together, whether that’s hiking, biking, or boating. It gets us out of our typical routine and encourages conversation.
• We invite family and friends into our home—and linger. Unhurried time with people close to us, sharing stories and experiences, enriches our lives and fosters connection.
• We go on vacations together. It’s amazing to me how we instinctively put our phones and other devices away when we’re on holiday. We might check the next day’s weather forecast or search the internet for activities to do, but mostly the devices are set aside. Every year we spend a week at a place where our phones don’t even work and there are no TVs. My kids call it their favorite place on earth.
• I put my phone on “do not disturb” mode all day long. This means I don’t hear a ding or feel a vibration, so my conversations, thoughts, and work are not interrupted. The reality is I can check to see if I’ve missed anything urgent when I have a free moment. If the house is really on fire, I’m sure someone will track me down and let me know it’s burning.
• I no longer sleep with any electronics in my bedroom. I used to charge my phones on my nightstand, but several years ago I moved them to my home office. The result has been much better sleep.
Excerpted from Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences. Copyright © 2018 by Carey Nieuwhof. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Pastor, podcaster and thought leader Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. His latest book is Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences. With more than 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today’s top leaders and cultural influencers. He and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario, and have two children. Visit him at didntseeitcomingbook.com.