How to Rule Your Technology (So It Won’t Rule You)

This strays a bit from the typical focus of this blog.  But I’ve become convinced that there is no gift more rare or precious today than our full, whole-hearted attention.  And if we desire to give that gift — in mentoring or fostering, in loving our spouse or nurturing our kids — we simply must learn how to dictate technology’s place in our lives.  Here’s an article from today’s Washington Post

Not long ago, I helped facilitate a retreat for men in their 20s and 30s. Whenever group discussions got raw and real, the subject of technology kept popping up, seemingly from nowhere. Finally, my co-leader held up his hands. “Okay, let’s get this out there. How many of you would honestly say technology is a major problem in your marriage?” Every guy in the room raised his hand.

It was clear a nerve had been touched, and we began digging. For most of the guys, the main issue seemed to be work technology invading home: checking email in every pause, texting at the dinner table, tackling projects on the laptop in bed. Many also admitted that Web surfing and TV gobbled an awful lot of their time, especially for news and sports. Conversely, many men felt their wives let social media be just as invasive. “If I stop with email, she’ll just be checking Facebook or Pinterest,” one fellow said wryly.

Whatever the particulars, all seemed to feel that technology had come to pervade and subtly change even their most intimate moments — perhaps irredeemably.

None of us need the latest how-many-hours-do-people-spend-online statistic to know that communication technology now invades every crack and crevice of life. Like a home built in a dense jungle, the only thing necessary for life to be consumed by the creeping vines is to not resist them. Technology invades unless prevented.

This need not make us tech-haters. We all have been baptized into the blessings of convenience, comfort and control unimaginable to history’s greatest emperors, kings and czars. Let’s affirm our technologies — many of them at least — with grateful hearts.

But still, every new technology carries a fundamental question: will we use the technology for our purposes, or vice versa? In other words, will we set the parameters of a technology’s place and effects in our life? Or, will forces beyond us — designers, advertisers, fellow users and other interests — decide when, where and how that technology will shape our lives? If we want that decision-maker to be us, we must opt in to the role. The default option for control is them.

But how do we take on that responsibility: actively, thoughtfully determining both the positive role of technology in our lives and setting its boundaries?

The ancient monastic tradition called a “rule” offers a simple, compelling way to set those boundaries. In monastic communities, a rule represents a voluntary commitment to do and not do particular things. It is a decision, made in a time of clarity, that helps guide choices the rest of the time. Rules turn intentions into specific commitments, commitments into actions, actions into habits and habits into a way of life.

It could be argued that most, perhaps all, ancient rules held one primary purpose: attention. As the rule of St. Benedict enjoins, amid noise and disturbance, we learn to listen “with the ear of our hearts.” A rule helps us give ourselves — our full presence — to the one thing most important in that moment, whether a friend or prayer or a task. A rule becomes a sea wall against distraction and constrains even some good-but-secondary things so that we can focus on what matters most.

Read the rest of the article (including ideas for creating your own “Rule”) HERE.