Suppressing the Screen to Set the Standard

Let's maintain control over our entrance and exit by reminding ourselves that we have a choice available at any given moment. This power can be obtained and sustained by asking the right questions at the right moments.
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Take a look at the following litany of quotes taken from actual interactions I've had with people close to me over the last week or so:

  • "Hang on a sec, I have to check us in."

  • "Do that again, I want to get a picture of it!"
  • "That is so funny! I absolutely have to post that!"
  • "Of course I was listening! I just had to check to see if an important email came through yet."
  • I'd like to think we all have those people in our lives. We all know these types -- the ones so addicted to their phones or tablets that they actually plan their time around their interaction with the screen.

    You may recognize the first quote from the "checker," the one person who has to check in everywhere they go, telling the world where they've been, what they've eaten, and what drinks they consumed, providing their network with a veritable play-by-play of their agendas almost each and every day.

    The second quote is the "serial Instagrammer," that one person in each of lives who constantly views the world through a potential set of filters and settings, always searching for that perfect angle from which to capture life in motion.

    The third quote is from the "status addict," that individual who constantly posts updates throughout the day, presuming everyone is intrinsically fascinated with his life's every last minute detail.

    The last quote is from "Captain Distracto," also known as the great avoider of eye contact, the person of whom you are never sure is listening or not.

    Sadly, each of the quotes above were actually me, saying these things to people I truly love (#1 to my wife, #2 to my children, #3 to a close friend, and #4 to several people on multiple occasions). These four stereotypes represent moments when I failed to recognize that I lost control over my entrance and exit to the world behind the screen. I was caught up in a mindless and impulsive desire to collect likes and comments from check-ins, pictures, witty statuses, but I was also feeding my desire to stay in touch with the constant flow of information streaming to my device, out of fear of missing something important.

    I propose the following: Let's maintain control over our entrance and exit by reminding ourselves that we have a choice available at any given moment. This power can be obtained and sustained by asking the right questions at the right moments:

    • What will I gain from pausing to check in? Is it because I want to see who else might also be nearby, or am I doing it to pad my online persona? What am I giving up by checking in right now, instead of being mindfully present with those around me?

  • Am I taking/posting this picture because I am trying to capture a memory, or am I taking it so that others will think highly of me and my experiences? What am I giving up by looking at life through the filter of a screen, instead of experiencing it with my own eyes?
  • Does this moment need to be recorded and shared with everyone in my network, or is it better savored by nurturing my presence with those in my immediate vicinity?
  • Am I controlling my urges to check an app, or is it controlling me? Does the app beckon my attention? What am I giving up by focusing on it at this moment? Would it better to set it aside and demonstrate greater self-control, and by doing so, does that demonstrate that I care more for others around me than the app?
  • There is a thin and extremely blurry line between us controlling our devices and our devices controlling us, and it is difficult to recognize when we have crossed that line until it is too late. We have crossed that line when we need a scientific study to tell us that 41 percent of children prefer playing on a device to eating dessert. These children weren't born with an instinctive drive to play these apps or watch their favorite content. They learned it from observation. They watched us, even when we weren't aware of the messages our behaviors were sending, so when they become so dependent upon screens for their sole source of entertainment, we have only ourselves to blame.

    Before anyone accuses me of advocating for a Luddite approach to technology, recall, if you will, exactly who was attributed for saying the four quotes at the top of this page. I love the miracle of modern technology, but just as with any miracle, I believe too much of a good thing turns it into a destructive force.

    My call to action is for all of us (particularly myself included) to remember who controls the exit and entrance to the fabulous world of technology hidden in plain sight, just beyond the screen, because small eyes are watching, and if I care about my children and the quality of their future relationships, it's up to me to lead the way.

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