“We have drawn important boundaries for the encroachment of technology into our lives to preserve our family and attention spans, but that does not mean we’ve managed to save time for reflection.”
The beauty of using my iPhone as my alarm clock is that when I reach over to turn it off I’m only a few more taps away from the rest of the world. Before I’m even fully awake I’ve checked my Twitter and Facebook notifications and my email and returned to Twitter to check my feed for breaking news. Before I’ve said “good morning” to my wife and children, I’ve entered a contentious argument on Twitter about Islamic terrorism and shared a video of Russell Westbrook dunking in the previous night’s NBA game.
While making my coffee and breakfast I begin working through social media conversations that require more detailed responses so that by the time I sit down to eat, I can set down my phone too. Years ago I would use my early morning grouchiness as an excuse to play on my computer rather than talk with my wife and kids, but now our family tries to stay faithful to a strict no-phones-at-the-table policy. We have drawn important boundaries for the encroachment of technology into our lives to preserve our family and attention spans, but that does not mean we’ve managed to save time for reflection. Instead, I tend to use this time to go over what I have to teach in my first class, or my wife and I make a list of goals for the day. It is a time of rest from screens and technology, but not from preoccupation.
As I drive the kids to school, we listen and sing along to “Reflektor” by Arcade Fire. On my walk back to the car after dropping them off, I check my email and make a few more comments in the Twitter debate I began before breakfast. In the car again, I listen to an NBA fan podcast; it relaxes me a bit as the anxiety of the coming workday continues to creep up on me.
Sufficient to the workday are the anxieties and frustrations thereof. And so, when I need a coffee or bathroom break, I’ll use my phone to skim an article or “Like” a few posts. The distraction is a much-needed relief from the stress of work, but it also is a distraction. I still can’t hear myself think. And most of the time I really don’t want to. When I feel some guilt about spending so much time being unfocused, I tell myself it’s for my own good. I deserve this break. I need this break. But there’s no break from distraction.
While at work, I try not to think about social media and the news, but I really don’t need additional distractions to keep my mind busy. The modern work environment is just as frenetic and unfocused as our leisure time. A constant stream of emails breaks my focus and shifts my train of thought between multiple projects. To do any seriously challenging task, I often have to get up and take a walk to absorb myself in the problem without the immediacy of technology to throw me off.
Alan Noble (PhD, Baylor University) is assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University and cofounder and editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has written for The Atlantic, Vox, BuzzFeed, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and First Things. He is also an advisor for the AND Campaign.