Intentional Technology

Writer Pico Iyer, author of the new book The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, has this advice for all those who think they are too busy to tame their use of technology: “It’s precisely those who are busiest who most need to give themselves a break.” According to Iyer, the World Health Organization has stated that “stress will be the health epidemic of the twenty-first century.” And he adds that a third of American companies now have “stress-reduction programs” to help alleviate it.

Iyer, who does not use a cellphone or social media, also shares the story of how his friend, technologist Kevin Kelly, “had written his latest book about how technology can ‘expand our individual potential’ while living without a smartphone, a laptop, or a television in his home. Kevin still takes off on months-long trips…without a computer, so as to be rooted in the nonvirtual world. ‘I continue to keep the cornucopia of technology at arm’s length,’ [Kelly] writes, ‘so that I can more easily remember who I am.’”

It is remembrance of the essential that people frequently forget. So easily distracted by digital devices, people ignore those present in the name of being connected to ones absent. It grieves me to observe groups of people together in public yet glued to their screens instead of paying attention to one another. The saddest occasions are the ones involving families oblivious to the obvious: that each individual is neglecting their loved ones for the fleeting attention of so-called friends, fans or followers.

Digital distraction has grown to the point that it has gotten difficult to enjoy simple pleasures like going to a movie or concert due to other people’s rudeness ruining the community experience. And the deadly driving of texting twits endangers all of us on a daily basis. All of which reminds my wife and I to be even more intentional about our own use of electronic devices, including not using them on weekends, or at least on the Sabbath. Gadgets are designed as useful tools but are not meant to be our gods.