I realize the irony embedded within writing a blog about taking a cyber retreat but this past week I was off-line for a week and found it to be a very refreshing experience. I like my computer and I like Facebook and I like to check my email and dink around on the internet and enjoy getting texts from people on my simple little cell phone. But I have found these things to be a tremendous time suck and a huge distraction from doing something more productive at times. So a forced break, due to a 7 day cruise to Mexico, was really a welcome experience.
While I wondered what folks were up to and what email might be waiting for me when I returned, overall, I was happy to not wake up every morning and turn on my computer and get on line within the first half hour. I read more, I walked more, I enjoyed the moment more. What I really realized is that I had better mornings overall. More productive and fruitful. Yes, being on vacation helped but I was acutely aware of how doing something other than being on the computer first thing was wonderfully refreshing. And while I feel very thankful that I can be connected, I don't want cyber communication to ever fully dominate my life.
Making a deeper impression than ever before, I have been struck on this trip by the amount of people who seem to live their life with their faces buried in their phones. Checking texts, playing with apps, yes, and even using the phone as well...a phone! But I have been annoyed on more than one occasion by friends who seemed much more interested in their phones than being with me. Why is it with texting in particular, that people feel a compulsion to read the text as soon as it comes in and then take time to answer it, even when it is not urgent or even important? What is it about staying with your present company that is so hard? I understand when someone is needing contact with a babysitter or with their kids, but I'm not referring to those situations. I'm talking about messing around on your phone to the exclusion of present company for no good reason except that it's a habit or it's (maybe) more fun than what the present offers.
Now, granted, I'm not a smart phone user so I don't fully appreciate the thrill, but I can honestly say that part of the reason I've resisted an upgraded phone is because of the distraction it could become to me. I went to a seminar on caring for yourself while in pastoral ministry and so many people were bemoaning how with the smart phone, people have the impression that you are constantly available. Well, you don't have to be. Turn off your phone. Teach people that you have limits and boundaries and that you will get back to them, but that your sense of response will not be driven by their demanding sense of urgency.
I don't mean to be picking on people who use their smart phones. Lord knows people have picked on me for using Facebook too much and it does not feel good. But I will say this. If I am visiting with someone in a face to face situation, and I was checking Facebook and updating my status every 3 minutes, I think it's safe to say that the person with me would be annoyed. What people do with their discretionary time is of no concern to me. I'm talking about cyber activity that cuts into relationship time with other real live human beings.
I guess my main point is this. I realized that my 7 day hiatus from using the internet in any form was quite refreshing. It sharpened my senses, helped me stay in the moment, and cleared my head. And I survived the week without knowing what people were up to throughout those days. (:
So I encourage you to set some limits, turn your phone off, pay attention to present company, at least once in awhile. I am giving some serious thought to building a cyber retreat into a life on a regular basis. As for the smart phone, it'll have to wait. Texting and talking on my simple little cell phone are enough for me while I'm out and about just now.