I am unplugging. I'm not talking about "living off the grid," throwing out the computer, shutting down my blog, or canceling our internet service. I simply mean that I am unplugging from the web 2.0, instant communication, virtual world more frequently. I think technology is a good thing, and the internet is a tremendous resource, but I have been living a life of tech-dependence for the past few years that has limited my engagement and enjoyment of family, ministry and life. In fact, it is fair to say that I have been very uncomfortable if I cannot check my email/have my phone with me wherever I am, and that is a form of bondage from which I must escape. I know I am not alone in this tech-slavery, but some of you may not know what I am talking about. Let me explain.
"Important" issues at work/church can keep us checking email or answering the phone when we are supposed to be out on a date with our wives, playing with our kids, eating dinner, etc. There was a day when some issues just had to wait until tomorrow, but technology has convinced many of us that, no matter how insignificant, nothing needs to wait until tomorrow, or even later, if we can deal with it now. My best friend once called me while I was on a date with my wife, just to rebuke me for answering my phone. Seriously, that was helpful for me.
Those who run blogs are often continuously connected to the web to watch the number of visits/comments, and respond to anyone who may want to engage their ideas. Those with a strong web-presence are often tempted to see their virtual presence as more important than their actual presence. We may not think of it that way, but when one of our children asks to play and we make them wait until the blog conversation is settled, we may have just told our little one that virtual life is more important than real life. These online conversations and debates can even more easily eclipse the importance of starting conversations with our actual neighbors in the real world. How many are willing to put hours into an online presence, carefully crafting words to share with others they will likely never meet, but are resistant to put any real effort into meeting the strangers they share the park with?
The iPod is an amazing invention. It's one of my favorite "things." It is tremendously useful and profitable, but it can also be a tool that interrupts our participation in community. Those little ear buds can create a private world that not only shuts the world off from you, but shuts you off from the world. Gone are the possibilities of greeting strangers, joining a conversation, and being present.
That is really what this rant is all about. Learning to unplug from tech allows me to be more "present" in the real world. You know, hand shakes, smiles, conversations about the environment, social issues and Jesus with people who share the streets and sidewalks with me.
I am not suggesting that we should "stop blogging and start winning souls for Jesus" as if the two are totally incompatible with each other. And it is unfair to assume that because someone has a strong web-presence that they are guilty of web-addiction. I am writing for those of us who have become imbalanced. I am writing of myself. What does this mean?
It means that being present must be the priority. I need to focus on my family when we spend our time together, and intentionally avoid the distractions of the phone, email, and internet. Email wont self-destruct before I read it, and we have voice mail now. Really, people can leave messages, and I can listen to them later. Genius!
It means we must define boundaries. I need to clearly define the times when we will be plugged-in, and the times we will be unplugged. This is important for family and ministry. If we set aside time for engaging in conversation in the virtual world, we had better set aside time to engage in conversation in the real world. Your wife wants to tell you about her day. Your husband wants to share his excitement about a project. Your kids want to show you what the made in art class, tell you bad jokes, and know that you are listening.
And concerning ministry - It means we must unplug more often to be faithful to the command of Christ. Jesus has sent you to a particular people, who live in a particular geographic region. He sent you to them, just as the Father sent him. We all must unplug in order to look people in the face and share our real lives with them. Doing the "work of an evangelist" is not entirely accomplished on Sunday morning, therefore you must get away from the computer and start meeting real people in real places. It' s important to be hanging out in places were you cannot say "LOL," but merely have to laugh out loud.
It means that when we are out, we remain available. In general, if I go out I should be available to the people around me. This typically requires that the ear buds come out, or the computer gets shut off. For example, if I go to Starbucks with my Moleskine and bible to flesh out some thoughts while drinking a grande iced coffee, unsweetened, with room, I should be open to those behind the counter, or sitting beside me. Open to conversation, open to helping someone in need, open to others connecting with me. Unplugging removes the tech barrier separating us from others. Of course there will be times when one has to be "out" but remain closed off, but in general I find that I can and should be unplugged more often than I am plugged-in.
God has been helping me let go of much of this over the past several months, but continues to show me just how unbalanced portions of my life can be. The cell phone and email are tough ones, but I am learning to let them go. So, I am spending time online within certain boundaries, while spending time in the community unplugged seeking to start conversations with people I can invite to church, my home, or to believe in Jesus. I am shutting off (or silencing) my phone in order to be fully engaged with family or friends. I am seeking to be more present in the real world - the one Jesus has sent me to.