Here in Florida, Cool Mum has gone on a vintage kick. She’s hit a few secondhand shops with success, including a nifty blue dress that only cost four bits – 50 cents, if you’re not up on your old fogey vernacular. (I wonder if nursing home folk call the performer “Four Bit” when “In Da Club” cranks up during shuffleboard.)
But while her wardrobe is leaning retro these days, it’s nothing compared to how she keeps in touch with people. Last Saturday, Jan. 26, CM started her Technology Break: cutting off email, Facebook, Google and the rest of the internet (which includes our little blog, of course). No TV, no screens, no recorded music. No texts or calls for conversation. The phone is only for family use.
The outside observer would say this is a big mistake. She’s breaking off her friendships, isolating herself from the modern world. She’s gone’s Amish. But CM contends it’s for her own good and the good of our family. I fully support her.
There’s no better way to understand CM’s Technology Break than to talk to the woman herself. I caught up with Cool Mum while she walked to the kitchen and I asked her why she broke up with 1’s and 0’s, how it’s gone so far, and how long it will last.
COOL DAD: Everyone wants to know: Why did you pull off the information superhighway?
COOL MUM: There are too many reasons to list, but the most important one is that I want to be fully present with the people and environment in front of me.
What are some of the other reasons?
I went back to my post-Lent rant from last year, and I’m in the exact same place I was last year, relying so heavily on technology for my relationships. Being a stay-at-home mom can be isolating, but I think it was making me feel even more alone that 90% of my conversations with people were coming through Facebook, email, phone and text. The things that were supposed to make me feel less alone were making me feel more lonely because it reminded me I was capable of deep friendships, but that I didn’t have any of those friendships in person.
But that’s the way the world works now: digital connectivity. What’s wrong with that?
The digital connections are great as long as they’re not the bulk of your relationships and conversations. There’s something about being physically in the same room as someone that cannot be replicated. Deeper bonds of friendship.
What kind of resistance did you meet when you told people about it?
Most people were supportive, though there were a few that thought I shouldn’t be as extreme as cutting off phone and text because they thought that those were good tools to orchestrate an in-person visit. I was surprised that even someone well over twice my age asked me, “How am I ever going to talk to you?”
What was your response?
I told her she could get in touch with me by contacting my husband, and that I welcomed snail mail and visitors.
So I’m now your personal assistant.
You signed up for it.
When we were talking about the great mothers of the past, you mentioned in passing that none of them had the internet, and it really got me thinking. And you see everyday how distracted I am by technology when I should be focusing on the tasks in front of me. So, I knew you would be in full support even if it meant extra work. Right?
Right… So, how did you prepare to make the break?
First I made a list of the things I depended on the internet for, other than communication. So any books I had electronically, I needed to get copies of.
Book of Common Prayer, The Bible, Books of Psalms for Worship.
I also needed a way to write without typing, so I found a store that happened to have journals half-off. While I was there, I thought I might as go all the way and get the type of pens that had to be dipped in ink. I also got a brand of pencils that’s been around since 1795.
So you’ll be okay if I get you a sundial on a wristband for your birthday?
(laughs) Sure! I don’t think that would work, though.
I also knew I wouldn’t stick with it unless I had a vision for it and it was fun. So, I thought back to Jessica Chastain in the movie Tree of Life. I remember she really inspired me as a mother, and that included the way she dressed up even to play with her kids. So that meant for the fun aspect, I needed to accumulate some vintage dresses and wear high heels more often.
Florida hasn’t been making me shrink after all…
Probably quite the opposite. (mumbles Chick-fil-A under her breath)
How did it feel the first day? Did you pick up the iPad by instinct before remembering it was off-limits?
Not at all. I was very excited that day. Coincidentally, the Tuesday before I started, there was a knitting class at church. So, I learned to knit for the first time. That kept my hands busy. I also wrote a lot in the journal.
What’s been the biggest challenge these first few days?
But I thought you were lonely before, too.
Before, when I was lonely, I could escape onto the computer to make me forget about it. This time, I’m constantly confronted with the fact that I’m out of touch with people. It’s really good, though, because I’m learning how to deal with it in a healthy way.
And how’s that?
I’m learning that having deep friendships is a privilege, not a right. I’m learning to be thankful when I do get to have meaningful exchanges with people while also not demanding that God give me meaningful exchanges with people all the time and all day long. I’m learning to trust that God will provide for my relational needs.
How has your break affected your relationship with the Cool Bros?
Even the week I was preparing for the break, I could already see improvements. They were even excited to hear I was going on a technology break. When I got myself a journal, I got them journals just like mine.
Now that I’ve started the break, it’s even better. I can tell they’re so much happier that they don’t have to compete with the iPad for my attention. I’m getting to know them in a new way.
How long are you going to keep this up?
If I were a better multi-tasker, technology wouldn’t be a problem for me. I’ve tried different approaches, but nothing has worked, so here I am cutting it out altogether. At this moment, I’d like to continue indefinitely, but we’ll see how it goes.
I’ve mostly cut out even recorded music and found myself singing and making up my own tunes. Creatively, this is just going to get better and better.
Can you dress up in British period costumes, so I can take a break from Downton Abbey?