Slow Tech Living Brings Tech Health

Janell Burley Hofmann, February 11, 2015

During the past few years I have been talking, encouraging, and preaching The Slow Tech Movement. On the road at speaking engagements, in private consults and in my newly published book, iRules: What Every Tech Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming & Growing Up, Slow Tech livin’ is the central principle and foundation in the conversation around tech health. Slow Tech doesn’t refer to your Internet connection or lack of tech knowledge, it’s about mindfulness. It’s about using technology deliberately and with awareness. The exciting truth is that we can embrace technology and set healthy boundaries around it. We can bring this reality into our homes, families, schools, personal and professional lives. We can promote and encourage a culture that is digitally literate, using technology for its highest good, while also being comfortable without our devices, allowing for full engagement or presence in the wide variety of life’s additional offerings.

When I speak about this, two things happen: eyes light up, twinkling with the possibility of being unattached or unavailable sometimes. We have forgotten how nice that might feel and permission to be present feels reassuring. Or, alternatively, eyes roll. It’s not possible, it’s idealistic, it’s contrary to the direction our entire planet is taking. As in, we have no choice. But both participant responses elicit sharing and stories, concerns and conversation. Below are a collection of the most common themes I hear from tweens and teens, parents and educators, grandparents and professionals wherever I am.

  1. An overworked educator must be available to parents and students around the clock for questions via email, even at the detriment of their own family, interests or rest.
  2. A teenager wants help asking her Dad to put his phone away at dinner.
  3. A 12-year-old texts other peers while hanging out with a group of friends in real life, but it’s too challenging for parents to manage.
  4. A professional brings work home and on family vacations because there is no excuse or reason to be “away.”
  5. A toddler cries to play the iPhone during storytime at the library (pool, grocery store, playground, Disney World).
  6. A friend fires off an emotional text instead of waiting for time to process feelings and have a face to face conversation.
  7. A couple dines in a restaurant and continuously checks social networks.
  8. A mother interrupts her playing children and begs them to pose for pictures.
  9. A family communicates health issues of an aging parent over text and can feel overwhelmed by the impersonal sharing of important information.
  10. A community advocate worries that everyone is becoming selfish, documenting their every individual move.
  11. A business is subject to unfair or unreasonable criticism on a message board and feels helpless.
  12. The parent and child struggle in “wants” — to upgrade, increase, acquire technology, capabilities, apps, social networks constantly. Everyone is exhausted.

To hear these stories, and thousands more, told first hand is moving. It matters to people. It can seem benign, but these tiny stories add up, add impact. And if it’s so common and we all can relate, why don’t we change? Where do we even begin? Believe me, I understand that it is easier to discuss, than to shift. I am so passionately in favor of Slow Tech Living that I forget how hard I have to work to make it happen. How much awareness, effort, discipline, and direction it takes to honor the Slow Tech Philosophy in my home, with my family, my relationships, my work. And even though tech boundaries work, it makes me feel better and function better, sometimes I wonder if all of this Slow Tech talk is in vain. If the tsunami of constant communication and connectedness has rendered my efforts obsolete or even impossible. It’s so mainstream, so unavoidable, so easy to be high volume users.

But we can decide. What do we really want from our technology? And what do we actually do? How do we get the most from it, without giving up so much of ourselves? What does balance look like for each of us and for all of us as a whole? We have to decide — as individuals, families, school districts, communities, and professional organizations — what feels healthy, what we want to protect, what we want to encourage. And we must reflect on how truly we value space to talk, eat, sleep, wait, doodle, visit, love and think, separate from our devices. Even though there is so much to celebrate about modern technology, can we still delight in the beauty of being away from it or preserving pieces of life without it? I hope so. And from what you tell me, you hope so too.

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