Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Being Present

Let me say right off the bat that I love technology. I'm a big fan of my computer, I'd be lost without my phone, and though my iPod isn't strictly a necessity, I do consider it one of God's little blessings. Music at the touch of a fingertip... Ahhh.

But if there's one thing that continues to frustrate and annoy me about our tech-y age, it's the fact that people are rarely present anymore. I mean truly, deeply, totally focused on the moment. Coffee with a friend is also coffee with her cell phone--and all the people who call and text her during an hour of "alone" time. And car rides with the family aren't about enjoying the scenery and time together anymore. Instead, the kids watch DVDs or play games on their Nintendo DSi. We even surf the web while we're on the phone or text in the middle of a movie. A few weeks ago I received the welcome packet from the birthing center where I hope to have our little one, and was shocked to read the following instruction: "Our hospital enforces a no texting policy during birth and labor. Birth is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is our hope that you will focus on the birth of your child and worry about updating your Facebook status later." People text in between contractions? Are you kidding me?

I said I love technology, but it's a love-hate relationship. I hate what it does to our attention span, our ability to listen, our potential to engage the moment--to relish each minute that we've been given. How many little blessings do we miss on a daily basis because we're too busy multi-tasking to notice that God has gift-wrapped a sunset?

Sadly, I think the fact that we are easily distracted translates into every area of our lives. I know it does for me. I sat down yesterday to write, and I found that no matter how hard I tried I couldn't shut off the cacophony of voices that kept drawing me away from my craft. The phone rang, my computer beeped to inform me of a new email, my cell phone received a (rare) text. (I can't believe I'm admitting this, but I have never sent a text in my life. What a loser, eh?) Anyway, it struck me that even in my writing, my art--something that I love and that expresses me and that is essential to who I am--I am shiftless and inattentive, incapable of giving myself wholly to something that gives me great joy. That's just plain pathetic.

So, what to do? I think it comes down to small steps, little nudges in more positive directions. When it comes to being present with people, Aaron and I have set down a few ground rules for ourselves. For example, we refuse to have "call waiting." We will never cut someone off in the middle of a phone conversation to see if someone "better" is on the other end of the line. And we have one cell phone between the two of us. It's an emergency phone that we use when we're away from the kids or on the road. Oh, and though we admit this may change someday, we don't have a DVD player in our car. Rather than hook our kids up to earbuds, we play I Spy and point out wonders along the road. Sunday we witnessed a doe and her twin fawns leaping in the ditch.

As for being present when I write, I think it's time to start being more deliberate about reducing distraction when I work. I believe I may have to shut off my computer and write longhand. The good, ol' fashioned way. Who knows? Maybe sans diversions I'll come closer than ever to saying what I actually want to say. Wouldn't that be grand?

Your turn: Are you one of the few people who is truly present in the moment? Or are you easily distracted? What's the number one thing that steals away your time and attention? What is something that you intentionally do to cut down all the background noise and focus on what's really important?


  1. Well at the moment my biggest distraction is called the TOS Crew. That's a group of homeschoolers that are chosen to review homeschool material. I've been chosen this year and I find that I can't keep myself from checking their (very busy) forum. I know the newness will wear off but for now I'm having to work hard to restrain myself.
    As for DVD's in the van, we don't have it and I don't miss it. We borrow one for long trips and that's nice, but they don't keep a movie going the whole trip. My children don't own DSi's. We have a wii (a gift that we didn't ask for but have come to appreciate) and we allow the kids to play racing games on the computer. They get 1 hr of 'game time' per day.
    It seems I can keep them under control much easier than I can keep myself :-(

  2. OK...I am a techy-texter and I love my phone. It is rarely very far from me and I think I text more than I ever talk on it. Its the running joke around our house...

    But, that being said...when it is Bible study time, coffee/girlfriend time, movie night with the family time, dinner time...whatEVER time that isn't just me...the phone goes on silent and it is put in a place where I can't see it light up. I am irked to NO end when people can't let it go for even a half hour chat...especially when they are talking to ME! :)

    I am, tho, so easily pulled away by it all. A "quick check of FaceBook" winds up being 3 hours totally wasted on status checks and stupid games. A "just gonna watch this half hour TV show" winds up being a movies and a retarded real-life drama. *sigh* Some days I actually do wish for a simpler life that isn't pulled in so many directions at once...but I also know that God uses this to strengthen my resolve to dis-entangle myself to find the time for Him and for the things HE things important in my life.

    ...really??? Not ever sent a SINGLE text??? YOU are my hero...

  3. Oh wow, this post is really hitting home with me today. ACK! I'm SO bad at this. Not necessarily out with friends during lunch or anything, but at home, I'm on my computer more than I should be. Not actually on it, but it's open so I can check my email really quick or check my tweetdeck. I think it causes me to miss some precious moments with my family....those moments that you only notice when you're looking and aware. Thanks for this post, Nicole. This is something I want to get better at.

    Especially since I don't want my kids to be the "I need a DSi and a cell phone and I can't have a conversation because I'm playing this video game" type. How can I set an example when my own dang head's in my laptop all the time??

    Great post!

    P.S. I could never ever ever write long hand. Oh me, oh my, I'd be horrible! And I'd never be able to read what I wrote either. I guess JK Rowling writes everything in long hand first. I am truly amazed.

  4. I get up as early as i can most mornings and enjoy the quiet. Sometimes I just sit and drink coffee and listen. I am present and attentive if the Lord speaks, but sometimes He and I just listen together.

  5. Nicole,
    I know from what you speak (how's that for a properly worded sentence). I find more and more people have no clear concept of proper cell phone etiquette. As soon as technology comes into play, many people forget common sense. Check out this site for a 'Top Ten List': http://www.thephonecoach.com/CellPhoneEtiquetteTenSteps.htm

  6. Marie, TOS sounds like a wonderful distraction. Reminds me of when we were adopting and I was addicted to the agency forum. It was a beautiful community of people who were passionate about orphans. I still miss it.

    Bina, I started a text once (my husband coached me through it because he was driving and I was actually responding to his friend), but Aaron had to finish it because I was all thumbs and took forever. I certainly won't be winning any speed-texting contests!

    Katie, I didn't think I could do longhand either. But I was so sick of getting sucked away from my manuscript that I determined to give it a one-week shot. Best thing I've ever done for my writing. And yes, it's pretty illegible--but I know what I've written! As for setting an example for your kids... I hear you. Actions speak so much louder than words and I often worry what I'm communicating to my kids.

    Nikolyn, I like early mornings, too. But right now I'm having a very hard time hefting my hefty form out of bed early. ;)

    Todd, thanks for the link! Can I print off the list and pass it around to people I think need to read it??? There's a couple of people I know who should have it taped to their forehead...

  7. I love my phone and my netbook and my laptop and my iPod. However, I hope my future, hypothetical children have a relationship with nature and want to play outside instead of playing video games, and want to cause mischief, and get dirty from playing outside. I want them to use their imaginations instead of letting technology do it for them. I just want them to remember what's important, and that's giving your undivided attention to people without dropping your head to check your phone every five minutes (I'm so guilty of that it should be illegal).