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Virtual Life vs. Real Life

March 7, 2011

A few months ago, the New York Times ran a series called “Your Brain on Computers,” and I read a few of the articles and heard an interview on NPR with one of the writers.  As a teacher, I’d get so frustrated with kids’ lack of focus and inefficient attention span. I know every parent since the dawn of time has complained about this same issue, but it’s no doubt getting worse - in part because of our society’s obsession with technology.  The series in the NY Times spoke of this shift in America’s youth and also commented on a number of other tech-related issues, but the piece that I just couldn’t shake was this one on parenting without unplugging. It questions what effect your phone or computer can have on your family life and your parenting, and it’s hard to read without seeing at least a little of yourself reflected.  It leaves me wanting to set some boundaries.

It’s not just parenting though; I have to wonder how these devices interrupt our daily living so that we can keep up with our virtual living. Suddenly we can’t enjoy a delicious meal without telling hundreds of people about it instantly.  We can’t take a trip somewhere without uploading a  million photos as soon as we arrive home.  I’ve even read Facebook statuses of women updating while in labor, usually telling 400 of their closest friends about the measurement of their cervix or how lovely the epidural is.  The glories of handheld internet, I guess.  And before we think let’s put up the phone, it’s not just cell phones either.  We do these things at home as well, which to me is perhaps the more sacred arena.  We email.  We Facebook.  We Twitter.  We Flickr.  We Pinterest (which if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s awesome).  We blog.  We surf the net for some answer to a question and get lost on a recipe site or an online store for an hour before we realize how much time we’ve wasted.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who has ever done this. I hope I’m not implicating only myself here.

The internet is one huge black hole, but it isn’t always negative. I get so many ideas from online sources, improving everything from my parenting to my cooking to my teaching skills and lesson ideas when I was in the classroom.  I primarily use Facebook now to update family with photos of a growing boy, and I occasionally use it to communicate with certain people I wouldn’t converse with much otherwise.  My Twitter “followers” consist of just a few friends, and I love our daily updates and ramblings, whether it’s an embarrassing story of what happened to someone this morning or a recommendation for books or music.  It makes me feel closer to friends and gives me a priceless lifeline to adult conversation as I wipe a snotty nose or play with barnyard animals for the hundredth time that day.  But still, though I remind myself of all the positivity that comes from the internet, I can’t shake the feeling that this area of my life needs some serious work. I don’t want to sacrifice living for real because I am putting too much emphasis on living virtually. I want to be here, really be here, in a way that feels kind of lost lately.

So last year’s Lent sacrifice was to eat no fast food, and I thought it would be pretty easy because I didn’t eat it that often anyhow.  It was HARD, like really hard.  Turns out I ate fast food on my lunch break at work only once or twice a week, but those couple of times were a difficult habit to break.  I did it though, and although I am back to the occasional Chick Fil-A now, those weeks without it drew a focus to my eating habits in a way that was needed.

This year I’ve tossed around a few ideas for what I would sacrifice this Lenten season. I am certainly not traditionally religious, but I’ve found that observing Lent is a really valuable thing for me to do every year for a million different reasons.  I know I want to focus on my online time, but I couldn’t decide exactly how to go about doing it and what rules to make for myself.

I could give up internet all together.  But WE ALL KNOW THAT WON’T HAPPEN.  And really, it’s totally impractical and unnecessary considering we pay bills online, communicate important things through email, etc.

I could give up blogging, but I won’t.  Because I love it and because it has so many positive implications in my life.

I could give up social networking, and I really considered that one.  My only reservations are that I love my tiny Twitter circle and the little details we discuss all day.  I’m also excited to say that there’s an Etsy giveaway on here in a couple of weeks, and I know Facebook will be useful to spread the word.

I could give up social networking on my phone, give up internet-ing on my phone all together.  When Jude is awake, I never get to a real computer to do anything of value, but I do surf online or respond to a tweet or “like” a Facebook photo or whatever when he’s playing and end up feeling guilty about it later.

So this year isn’t a straightforward Lent resolution where I just give something up altogether, but I am putting a lot of boundaries on myself with all of this.  My rules for the next few weeks?  I’m generally abstaining from Facebook with the exception of my birthday later this week when I’ll check in to read the gazillion birthday messages from the people I haven’t talked to since sixth grade, say a thank you, and sign off.  When the Etsy giveaway rolls around in a couple of weeks, I’ll most likely use Facebook to share a link – since the point of all this is to bring some attention to the featured Etsy shop, and Facebook is an easy way to do it.  Facebook has its merits actually, but then there’s also a slew of people with whom I haven’t really spoken in at least ten years or barely encountered as our lives crossed paths somehow, and I somehow know what they had for breakfast or what their new favorite YouTube video is.  I’m ready to shed that clutter from my brain and my life for a while.

The second stipulation I’m creating for myself is that I’m banning internet while Jude is awake, which really means I don’t use the internet on my phone since I never get real computer time while he’s awake and busy anyhow.  This will be my hardest habit to break, but I’m thinking the brain power required for those two-minute email or Twitter checks might be more of a drain on my day than I realize.  If I follow these rules and find online time overtaking my naptime and evening hours, then I’ll reassess and see about setting other limits, but this is a good place to start.

I’m a little scared about this since I thought getting rid of fast food wouldn’t be that bad last year, and it was so much more difficult than I thought.  With this challenge, I know it’s going to be hard not to reach for the phone when the email alert chimes, not to sneak a peak at a news feed when there’s something else I should be doing that I’m procrastinating on.  But I’m excited. I’m ready to see what it’s like to be completely involved in one task at a time.  So when I use Jude’s naptime to write a blog entry, I’ll be all here.  When I sit down after dinner to check in on my email and return a message or two, I’ll be all there.  And when I’m playing in the floor with my son, I’ll be all there as well,  not wondering what’s going on with any of the virtual communities we all tend to have these days or checking in on my email inbox.  I want to be all here all the time.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 10:45 pm

    Very good post! I’ve been thinking about Lent, too. Last year I decided to knit only for others during Lent. There were some projects I put down and never got back to! But it felt really good to get back to knitting for other people more regularly. I’m not sure what I’m going to do this year. Tackling the Internet thing really is a good idea that I’ll consider.

  2. March 8, 2011 10:52 am

    Good post. Again. (Glad you aren’t giving up blogging, by the way! :) I get too much out of your posts! LOL) My problem is also internet on my phone. I love it. and I fear I love it too much that it does take up too much of my day. You know how much I post on facebook! I would say 80% of it is from my phone! I will be interested in seeing how you do with this. A friend of mine recently shut down her facebook account because she thinks she became addicted to it. She said she was stopped at a red light and her hand, without even thinking, went to her phone to look at facebook to “pass the time” at the red light. (This was right when the no texting rule came to play while driving) I totally get that! I do it, too. Without even thinking about it throughout my day, walking, (thankfully NOT driving – but I have done it while stopped at a light), I will click the little button on my phone, slide my thumb over the screen and presto! There is facebook! Half the time I dont even read it!
    I dont really ever give anything up for Lent….but I am thinking it isn’t a bad idea to pull your idea of no more facebooking on the phone while Caleb is awake. Facebook is my main problem. I do use the internet for useful things, even when Caleb is awake. I cook off recipes from my phone all the time….So…Facebook it is. Hey – maybe we will be able to act as each other’s sponsor for our addictions. ;) Good luck, Katie. (and dont forget about your little tweeps….we will miss you!)

    • March 8, 2011 2:18 pm

      It’s amazing how second-nature if becomes, right? So crazy. After tomorrow, I am removing the FB and Twitter apps from my phone. I’ll still be checking Twitter during naps and evening hours though. I like my tweeps too much. :)

  3. March 8, 2011 11:35 pm

    Thanks for the article link. I am really looking forward to reading that. This is such a big one for me and I hear you all the way. I fasted in January and I had a hard time decided what to give up and for pretty much all the same reasons as you. I don’t watch TV anyway, Facebook not a big enough deal to even matter, chocolate (I had some excuse for this one). I ended up giving up talking on the phone while driving. I know this is illegal in some states and sounds like it’s not a big deal at all, but it was actually tricky. When I drive to work or wherever I go without the kids it is really my only time of solitude, so it was surprising how much a month of focusing on God during my driving time and being quiet really did have an impact.

  4. Eric Molletta permalink
    March 11, 2011 12:09 pm

    Great post! The tug of war between virtual living and real life becomes much more “apparent” when you’re “a parent”. Life is certainly worthy of our full attention, no matter the cost. It’s a decision that we won’t regret.

    BTW, I’m an occasional reader via my wife’s blog.

    • March 11, 2011 1:02 pm

      Parenthood changes you in so many ways, right? :) Thanks for reading and commenting, Eric!

  5. Stephanie permalink
    March 13, 2011 8:13 pm

    Kind of funny to me when my husband mentions this blog one night during dinner. I guess I missed this one. I made that rule for myself and followed the first 7 months of Madelyn’s life but have let it slip lately. Thanks for the encouragement!

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